January 15, 2021

Isn’t It Hard?

Judean Wilderness

Mouths move without vision — without regard for consequences
Eyes fill with memories poisoned by intimate knowledge of failure to love
Sometimes, sometimes, doesn’t the light seem to move so far away?
You help your sisters, you help your old lovers,
you help me but who do you cry to?

‘Cause isn’t it hard
To be the one who gathers everybody’s tears?
Isn’t it hard
To be the strong one? – Excerpt from “The Strong One” – Bruce Cockburn (1981)

I often approach Thursday evening having thought through an idea or several ideas through the week. Often I will pick up on thoughts that Chaplain Mike has had, and put my own twist on things, other times it will be issues that are on on the front of my mind. Thursday night is then a time of coalescing and expressing, organizing and enunciating.

Then there are times like tonight when I read Michael Spencer’s thoughts published 24 hours ago. It lead me to think about other posts that he wrote about not always having a smile on his face. The linked post contains some of my earliest comments on Internet Monk, and looking back on them, they seem so trite. This was reinforced by Sean’s expressed vulnerability in his comments on Thursday’s post. (Really appreciated your comments Sean.)

The best church sign I have ever seen said, “It’s not always a wonderful life – Summer sermon series 10:30.” It probably communicated in a bunch of different ways to a bunch of different people, but to me it said, here is a place where you don’t have to put on a mask. People at this church will accept you as you are. It made me want to visit their church.

Well, for me and my family life is tough right now for a number of reasons. I won’t go into details for privacy reasons, but we are going through a very rough patch with no end in sight. We are told help is on the way, but it hasn’t arrived yet. As I writer, I want to have all the right answers, but sometimes I just get stuck on the questions. Please pray for me and my family. We desperately need your prayers.

We do not need financial assistance. Our needs are of a different kind.

What I Learned from CancerI do want to draw your attention to another family who could also use assistance. Dennis is a cancer survivor. Twice in fact. His job ended a while ago and his unemployment benefits have run out. His wife has learned that she will be facing unemployment this summer as well.

Dennis has been writing a book, “What I learned from Cancer”. I believe this is a book you will want to read as Dennis is an excellent writer who has much to say about the importance of community in caring for others. On Saturday he will be launching a Kick Starter campaign to fund the publishing of the book. He doesn’t need very much. Here is a short interview he did for Manitoba Healthcare. Take a few minutes to watch it and get to know Dennis a bit. You can also read more about his project here. Finally here is an excerpt from his book:

Living at the mercy of others is a hard place to be. I think that is one of the reasons that it is so frightening to be sick, knowing that at some point we will have to give up our self-determination and release ourselves into the care of others. For some, this is such a terrifying prospect that they would rather take their own lives than endure the ignominy of being cared for by others. For me, it was a hard balance between trying to be self-sufficient as I healed and recognizing my limitations. There were many occasions over the last few days in hospital where I lay in my own vomit or waste and sighed as I called for a nurse to come and clean me up. And on those occasions, I realized that there is a thin line between humility and humiliation. And, for as long as I wanted to be the proud, strong patient, my humiliation remained at the forefront of my experience. The essence of humility is being able to let go of pride and being able to embrace the comfort that comes only from others.

On the day before my release two things happened that turned my mind from depression to hope. The first was a chance encounter with Dr Y in the hallway. At that point, he did not visit me every day for I was beyond the realm of what he could do for me and my recovery was really in the hands of the nurses. So, it had been a couple of days since I had seen him last. I was doing my morning shuffle down the hallway, head down, tired of and nauseated by the smells and the sounds of the hospital and contemplating the possibility that I would never, ever, get out of that place. I looked up and there he was. Now, Dr Y is an imposing man at any time: tall, stockily built, with a deep booming voice. At that time he looked like a giant. I caught his eye and he said to me.

Dr Y: “Dennis, how are you feeling?”
Me: “Awful Doc, I just want to go home.”

I am sure that there was more emotion in my voice than I wanted to communicate at that point. In response, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s going to be ok.”

Something happened with those words. I’m not sure why, but something happened.Here was my doctor, a man with years of training, and many more years of experience. A man who was at the top of his field, both in Manitoba and across Canada. He did not offer me medical wisdom or a treatment plan. He offered me nothing more than a touch and words of hope, “It’s going to be ok.”

I think that was the turning point in my hospital recovery, more psychological than physical. That, coupled with the nurse who told me to “get off my butt, have a shower, and get ready to leave” gave me enough hope to ensure that I was ready to be discharged the next day. This, a testament to both the power of determination as well as the enduring strength that comes in a community willing and able to provide strength to you when you have none for yourself.

I hope that this is what we can be at Internet Monk: A community that is willing and able to provide strength to those who have none for themselves. People like Sean, or Dennis, or Jeff Dunn, or me, or anyone of a number of you who are going through your own struggles right now. “‘Cause isn’t it hard To be the one who gathers everybody’s tears? Isn’t it hard To be the strong one?”


  1. Vega Magnus says

    Being the one who “gathers the tears” is a very important role, especially when the response from the church to suffering is, in some circles, apathy or even irritation with sufferers for their situations.

  2. This line of thought reminds me of a series of (recorded) lectures I listened to a decade ago……a priest and hospice chaplain was addressing an audience of Christian health care workers, mostly doctors and nurses, on the topic of being a “Wounded Healer”.

    Whether we are gathering tears of sickness and injuries, or gathering tears of spiritual and emotional pain, we are trying to nudge our brothers and sisters out of despair and pain. At the same time, we all carry with us our OWN pain and weakness…..but choose to put it temporarily aside to focus on others. We are healers (of body or spirit) and yet we are also sick…..we are wounded healers.

    No matter what our vocation or where we are in our journey of Christian life, we are all called to be wounded healers to others…..and, often, we MUST allow ourselves to be human and weak and accept the tear-gathering of others. For some of us (ok, for me) it is easier to be the helper than the one showing the tears and pain.

  3. Beautiful, Michael. Thank you.

  4. Patricia Stewart says

    Isn’t it hard? Yes. Does it have to be?

    I commend to you this blog: http://bensauer.blogspot.com/ – It is written by Ben’s mother Mindy. Ben is a 4 year old twin with a terminal brain tumor. Mindy tells it like it is. Today she concludes with a cry that resonates with my heart: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Although I don’t know this young family personally, the Grama Mindy writes about was my friend Janet. Janet was part of our cancer support group – Hope for the Journey, where Christ is the real big “C”. She lost her battle with this disease about 6 months ago. So Ben’s plight has hit our little band of warriors especially hard. There has been anger, sadness, as well as questions and confusion at times – so many different responses have surfaced in response to Ben’s illness. Couple this with another high profile battle being waged in our church community (Jim Kelly), and the why questions keep coming. I have no answers. It is impossible to be the “strong one.” And I think that is the point. We have this treasure in jars of clay . . . our brokenness is necessary for that treasure to be on display . . . for when I am weak, He is strong.

    This has been a slow learning process for it runs counter to the self sufficient mantra of our culture. Yet, God dependency brings great blessings. He alone is the source of our life and strength. Life is hard and it is about HIS story; it is not about us. And, sooner or later we learn that what God is doing in your life or mine is more often FOR others as well.

    Uncertainly and the inability to control our circumstances are stinging reminders of our own inadequacies. It is so easy to become overwhelmed when we gather the tears of others because we are hardwired to want to fix things. Yet Jesus tells us plainly, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” When we embrace this truth, we gather the tears of others and carry them to the cross. It is a privilege to be Jesus in skin to those who suffer. Life IS hard; but it is a light burden to bear when HE does all the work.

    I suspect that when we experience frustration and loss of direction it is often because we have put the cart before the horse.

    “To love you as I should, I must worship God as Creator.When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.” C. S. Lewis

  5. Heart-rendingly beautiful, Mike. Prayers for you and you family at this time.

  6. Mike,

    I don’t know you except through your writing so I will offer to you the only thing I can at the moment…. prayers for you and your friend Dennis and know that you will be part of my family’s intentions tonight (the one’s not at college at least) so me times 7…..


  7. David Cornwell says

    “Something happened with those words. I’m not sure why, but something happened.Here was my doctor, a man with years of training, and many more years of experience. A man who was at the top of his field, both in Manitoba and across Canada. He did not offer me medical wisdom or a treatment plan. He offered me nothing more than a touch and words of hope, “It’s going to be ok.””

    This is why doctors play such an important role in true healing. Even if they cannot promise an illness will go way, be healed, or vanish, they can deliver hope. I have had experiences with several kinds of doctors. I too had cancer 14 years ago, and I truly did not know if I would live or die. My doctors were healers, of the best kind. They could be honest, but they knew, somehow, that healing was not all up to them. There was something beyond their powers always present. So, their words became important, and they wanted them to be healing words. The same is true with my wife who now suffers from Parkinson’s.

    Doctors need to guard words carefully, just as do all of us. Me especially!

  8. I rarely comment here, but I read this bog every day. It was wonderful to find a place where people could be open and honest about their fears, doubts, frustrations, depression, anger … you name it. A blog such as this is in many ways a healing presence. Thanks to all of you … writers and commenters alike.

  9. br. thomas says

    It is posts like the one above that remind me of what is truly important and help put into proper perspective discussions about evangelicalism, debates about social issues and preoccupations with whatever is trending in the media. Thank you for that important reminder, Mike B.

  10. Powerful article Mike B. I am reminded of Proverbs 18:21: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”….. Prayers for you and your family…….”But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.” Psalm 40:17

  11. God isn’t magic, but in a way His love is. Likewise, words aren’t magic, but sometimes the love and hoe in them is. This is a heart-wrenching yet brave and honest post. May God care for you all in a divine way today.

  12. Pauline Margrette says

    Thank you Michael for your article and for your endorsement of Dennis’ book. As his mother, I shared his
    despair and recovery from my then residence on a remote island in the Georgia Strait. Not a day went by
    without tears shed, prayers said for his recovery. And now, for you my brother, I pray for your healing and
    a recovery out of a dark valley. God bless all who are facing “darkness” today!

  13. Mike Bell:

    “Well, for me and my family life is tough right now for a number of reasons. I won’t go into details for privacy reasons, but we are going through a very rough patch with n?o? ?e?n?d? ?i?n? ?s?i?g?h?t?.? no promise of a good end in sight. W?e? ?a?r?e? ?t?o?l?d? ?h?e?l?p? ?i?s? ?o?n? ?t?h?e? ?w?a?y?,? ?b?u?t? ?i?t? ?h?a?s?n?’?t? ?a?r?r?i?v?e?d? ?y?e?t?.? We are seeking the only help that we can logistically and financially avail ourselves of now, but we don’t know if it will be effective in the long term.”

    Yes, I can truly empathize with your pain and situation. It’s rough.

  14. Michael, thank you for your words of encouragement. I cannot know what it would be like to go through what Dennis has had to endure for neither I nor anyone in my family has had to endure such things. Neither can I know what you are going through since I do not know what that is. And just as Paul did not specify what his “horn in the flesh” was, oftentimes it is best to leave the details out.

    But I have had my share of troubles–still do–and so in a general sense I know what you’re going through. What I can do is to pray for you that God’s grace will comfort you, make you strong in your weakness, and see you safely through this life and onto the next.

    Like you I do not want to be trite. Even so, I thought I’d share this verse with you. It gives me comfort, perhaps it will give you comfort as well,

    “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33)

    God bless you and your family.

  15. Thank you for this Mike.

    I’m sure we all know somebody that is going through something horrible and it is not my intention to add worries on top of the ones you already have. But, if I may, I would ask those in the I-Monk community to pray for Alby, a 6yo little boy from our town. He took ill a little over a month ago and is diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma. He can barely eat, is rail thin, and needs all the energy he can get to fight this. But he is a remarkable boy with a great attitude. If you like you can follow his progress here – https://www.facebook.com/groups/195335690676741/

    Thank you.

  16. Thank you for all the words of encouragement,. Your prayers are certainly appreciated.

    I will post a link to the Dennis’ kickstarter campaign as soon as I can, but I have a family funeral out of town tomorrow (not related to this post) along with a couple of other events which means that I will be gone most of the day.

  17. Thank you for the post Mike. Praying for you and your family.

  18. Greg Maynard says

    ” As I writer, I want to have all the right answers, but sometimes I just get stuck on the questions.”

    Amen, brother. As a fellow traveler who has spent 30 years as a professional communicator, your honest, simple words resonate with me today. As someone traveling a valley myself, I can feel the emotions in that sentence. Have been thinking something similar myself. The John 16:33 reference is totally appropriate. Blessings.

  19. Final Anonymous says

    Prayers for you and your family, Mike.

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