At times I make the mistake of seeing those in need as somehow less than or as “others.” I can acknowledge my place of privilege and, in that privilege, it can be easy to offer help to the poor or to the oppressed out of pity. During this Easter season, I have been reminded that there are some things we all have in common. And while pity might lead to positive action, empathy and love can lead to more meaningful connection if we are willing to both give and receive it.
Isaiah describes Christ as “despised, rejected by man; a man of suffering and acquainted with grief.” There are many folks coming home from prison today who might see themselves in such a description. But when I read those words last week, I couldn’t help but think about a childhood friend who recently died unexpectedly. In his adolescence, my friend began to develop a narrative about himself. He believed his teachers (and just about everyone else) were against him, that no one understood him, and that he was alone. Whether or not this narrative was true didn’t matter—my friend believed it. In this belief, he often chose to reject consolation. Instead, out of suffering, he chose substance abuse.
In the weeks that have followed my friend’s death, I have found myself weeping for him and have struggled to find my own consolation. In this grief, it has occurred to me that when it comes right down to it, consolation is perhaps what all of us need most. Peter Wehner, in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times said this:
Like Job, we have to admit to the limitations of human knowledge when it comes to making sense of suffering. ‘From the biblical evidence,’ the Christian author Philip Yancey has written, ‘I must conclude that any hard-and-fast answers to the ‘Why?’ questions are, quite simply, out of reach.’ So, too, is any assurance that the causes of our suffering, the thorns in our flesh, will be removed. So what, then, does Christianity have to offer in the midst of hardships and heartache?
The answer, I think, is consolation, including the consolation that comes from being part of a Christian community—people who walk alongside us as we journey through grief, offering not pities but tenderness and grace, encouragement and empathy, and when necessary, practical help.
This is what Christ’s resurrection has to offer us in this life, if we’re willing to receive it. And through that resurrection, we are able to offer such consolation to others.
There are men coming home from prison every day who struggle to find someone to console them. There is often no community waiting for them. No tenderness. No grace. No empathy. Can you imagine existing outside of such love and compassion? Maybe you can. Maybe you have. Maybe you are right now.
This resurrection Sunday I will remember my friend and feel the sting of grief. I will think about those returning from prison who hope to experience such consolation but cannot find it. We are not so different. Myself, my friend, those returning citizens, you. Deep down, we all want to be loved. Christ, who was despised and rejected and yet rose again, walks with us. Let us be willing to receive this consolation and freely pass it on to one another.
Robert Kuehl is a psychotherapist working in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Temple University (BA, Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media, 2004) and Eastern University (MA, Clinical Counseling, 2014). He attends West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship with his wife and three children, where he seeks to bring issues of race and mass incarceration to the greater consciousness of the congregation.