Tears for the Hopeless

There were a few young boys who lived near our house in Nakuru, Kenya. They’d often approach us when we were out buying groceries. And even though they didn’t speak the same language as us, they still managed to communicate. A simple gesture was enough.

All they wanted was some spare change to buy glue. And in sniffing the fumes of that glue, just maybe they could get high enough to forget. To forget that they hadn’t eaten a meal for days. To forget that their bodies were tired and broken. To forget the cold nights out on the streets – breathing the foul smoke of a burning tire for the sake of staying warm. To forget that no one wanted them.

***

When I used to work downtown, I passed the same old man nearly every day. He had a white beard and a knotted cane. And to everyone who passed, he offered a song of blessing – though it was out of tune and heavyhearted.

And on those days filled with icy rain or gusting winds, you could still see him sitting there on that black, upside-down crate. He’d hold out an empty paper cup, hoping that the blessings in his songs would come back to him – even if they were only enough for a bite to eat, a bed to sleep on, or a drink to warm against the cold winter nights.

***

I once saw a man on the train platform. He walked, pacing back and forth and staring blankly off into the distance. He looked exhausted. When the train arrived, he boarded the same car as I did.

He was crying. He hadn’t slept in 48 hours. His wife had died the day before, and he was alone. It was New Years Eve.

***

I remember these people. I remember their pain.

Why must they bear such suffering? Why must they be alone and without hope?

Such hardship. Such heartache. How can I stand in the face of it all? It often feels I am so powerless – so helpless.

standing in the storm
amid the rain of lightning
breaking all around
and beneath the thunder’s roar
who shall hear the falling tears

There are times where the only thing we can do is allow ourselves to embrace the hurt. We don’t have to have the answers. It is enough that we care.

Sometimes the only appropriate response is tears.

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6 thoughts on “Tears for the Hopeless”

  1. Hi Josh,
    You are right, it hurts when sombody is suffering and we are so powerless and all we do is shed tears with restless sleepless nights. This is a noble gift, to care and show concern. A great noble ministry you are in Josh. Your parents are the same.

  2. I know I don’t cry enough. It is easy to feel comfortable with a calloused heart. Your blog last week was a good reminder of a discipline that can keep that heart tender.

  3. I have been working on the same issue ,sort of. It is- how much pain of others do I take on ? This is hard for me to figure out,and I dont know the answer . If I take on too much , it pulls me down or into it. If I ignore it I miss out on some piece of my role and feel cold and uninvolved. We can’t take on every issue that touches us , but how many can we take on, and in what ways. What if we are capable of much more, but we don’t activate it because we don’t believe it. I think ,in part , the suffering of others is designed to activate something inside us, to expand our self image for what we are capable of doing. Thats the part of the serenity prayer that troubles me. We are supposed to accept what we cannot change . But I think there are things we can change that seem impossible , so accepting those things is error.

    1. These are such great questions. Though I have to say I don’t have any firm answers either. It’s a constant tension. And in many ways, leaning into that tension is at the heart of my journey and exploration. I can, however, offer a bit of what I’m learning.

      First is that it starts with our practice. I agree with you that we have more potential than we realize. It’s up to us to keep exploring ourselves. It’s up to us to keep pushing our perceived boundaries and limits. And from that we can better serve the needs around us.

      Also, we often just have to choose something to focus on. There’s a lot of need in the world, but it’s OK for us not to help with everything. For the many things we can’t change, sometimes the best thing we can do is offer a prayer of compassion and return to the work we’re called to do.

      And when we get overwhelmed, it’s worth looking at what is good. Even though there is much pain and hardship in a situation, there are also things that are good and worth celebrating. It’s not all good, but it’s also not all bad.

  4. Josh,

    Learning to be with the suffering (our own and the world’s) is (I believe) a life long journey.

    You highlighted some examples that feel challenging to ever know how or what to say or do for the other person… Yes sometimes it’s enough to be present with the other person, for a shining moment, reflect with our eyes – you are loved and all is well, even if it doesn’t feel that way in this moment.

    Once, a toothless man shoved a flower in my hands as he saw me crying waiting for a bus – he didn’t stick around to find out what happened, didn’t say a word. It was the most profound healing I have ever received. Like, even in THIS moment, there is joy and beauty to be found.

    Love to you Josh, so appreciating your gifts you share,

    Robin

    1. It does all come back to that fundamental need, doesn’t it? The need to be seen (even if it’s only in a small way).

      Thanks for sharing the story of the flower.

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