April 25, 2016

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One of my best friend’s son, who is eleven years old, fell into a fire pit last Friday night. He has severe burns over his whole left arm and right hand, less severe in other places. Less severe just means the burns won’t need surgery. He will live and almost certainly heal completely; he will, however, carry the evidence of the scars of life, outside and inside.

I don’t have the relief that knowing he will heal brings; the perspective in which the fact that he will likely fully recover helps me forget the pain he must go through to get there. The perspective is not a reality. The reality is a child. This eleven year old is in the adult burn unit at a major medical center. He is in agony. His suffering will continue even after his healing begins in the hands of powerful medical gifts. The medical team performed the first skin graft the morning after the accident. The child reported the pain to be like needles being stuck in him and then hornets stinging the open area over and over and over.

If we are going to experience the joy of life, we cannot escape the pain of life.

The group of children were having a perfect Friday night among family and friends before it turned into an agonizing story of terror. The care, prayers, and physical help that my friend’s family and son are receiving, and will continue to receive, is a great gift in the midst of the tragedy; yet the pain does not stop.

If you read these words and hate what happened, you care about my friend’s son because you can imagine the pain and don’t want it to happen to you or anyone you love. Don’t you know that everyone involved also wishes that this painful reality could just be rolled back to Friday afternoon? No Friday night fire pit, no accident, no pain, just easy, quiet, good laughter and the joyful experience of living. The fire pit was properly built, properly supervised, and the children were behaving properly. He still fell. And there is no rolling back of the time. There is no place to go away, to get away, unless love is left behind.

There is no such place as “away.”

The pain of life and love is not going to stop no matter what we do. There really is no getting away from life, though I know what people mean when they say, “I want to get away.” Doesn’t matter. My friend, his wife, his son and all concerned have to face, feel, and deal with what is happening. They must deal with life or abandon their son.

If we are going to experience the joy of life, we cannot escape the pain of life. In fact, all of our attempts to escape the pain of life really do make us forfeit the joy of living. Wherever we go, we end up finding ourselves having to live all that life has in it, not just its sweetness that we can imagine.

We really do live in the war zone of reality where hope battles despair, light battles darkness, creativity battles destruction, and courage battles death. If this were all that exists—the fight and only the fight itself—I don’t believe life would be worth it.

There is more than the fight; it is the love for which we fight. However, we do have to learn how to fight hard and with great passion, just as the healers on the burn unit fight for their patient, and my friend fights for his son.

We cannot get to a place that allows us to live without agony in the midst of reality.

But how do we continue to fight in a world that will overwhelm us? We do so with love, the kind of love that is willing to face all things, feel all things, reach to have help in all things, and then stay. We do so by “waiting hard” in neutral while others care for us. We do so by moving forward when we are not the ones in the midst of the agony, and then stopping to help those who are “waiting hard.” We do so by not going away to a place that does not exist and where love does not live. We don’t put our lives in reverse. Love has a neutral and a forward. No reverse.

Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres,” (I Cor. 13:7), and has to do so in a world that is tragic. Either we face it, feel it, reach out to others in it, or we clamor for a place called “away” that does not exist.

We cannot get to a place that allows us to live without agony in the midst of reality. Our only recourse, our only solace, and our only true fight is to love deeply, even though we know the cost, and to remain while we pay it. Rest assured, my friend, his wife, their son, and their other children are caught up in the battle right now. My friend and his wife will not leave their son. They will not leave each other. They will remain, and they will love.