"Suffering is a part of our gig."
Dr. Vince McLaughlin
If you want to read one of the great spiritual classics of all time that deals with deep personal struggle, you may want to pick up The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross in which he shares the lessons he learned in his own encounters with many dark nights.
Today, however, my attention shifts from St. John and his dark night to four very special friends and their dark nights.
Philip grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. I have often heard him say, "If it were not for God's grace, I would be dead or in jail today." But because of God's grace, he left the Mafia and his hoodlum friends to become a highly respected church leader.
He met and married his college sweetheart, Janette. Several years ago, Janette began facing serious physical challenges and gradual memory problems. Her condition has now worsened so that at times she doesn't even recognize her husband and soul mate of 57 years.
Philip is going through a dark night. And right now his family, his friends, and his God mean more than ever.
Vince was born in Scotland. He never wore trousers until he was 16 years old. I recently heard him speak on the subject of suffering. His elegance gripped us. This well-educated scholar with two earned doctorates presented a profound theology of suffering.
About two-thirds of the way through his message he said, "I'm acquainted with an individual who had a dark night of the soul." Unless you knew Vince, you would not have suspected he was beginning to tell his own story. He soon described his own dark night with cancer.
As he spoke we were mesmerized by his saintly insights. "Some things can only be learned through suffering. Suffering is part of our gig. Embrace it. Learn from it. Age is not prohibitive to suffering. No matter how old or young, you are going to suffer."
It didn't matter that just about everyone in the room who heard him was hardly 25 years old, we all knew Vince had insights from his dark night which connected deep inside each of us. "Do you regret having cancer?" He rhetorically answered, "No. My walk would never be the same."
Vince is going through a dark night. And right now his family, his friends, and his God mean more than ever.
Even though we are not related with Tom and Kim, we use the words "friends" and "family" as synonyms. And because we live close to each other, we often spend holidays and birthdays and other days together.
Just days ago, Tom received a phone call informing him that he has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. None of us, including Tom, want to have our own oncologist.
For Tom and Kim, their dark night has just begun. And during this season their family, their friends, and their God mean more than ever.
Tom and Pat have been lifelong friends. They are also actually like family. Pat was a babysitter for Evie. And one of Evie's great family stories was that Pat fed her Pepsi from a bottle as a baby. Pat loved Pepsi. Forty-two years ago, Tom was the minister who performed our wedding ceremony.
Just a day ago their son, Kevin, called us to let us know that Pat has progressive dementia. When we were with them about eight months ago, all seemed well but now a dark night is settling in.
Tom and Pat are going through a dark night. And right now their family, their friends, and their God mean more than ever.
For Philip, Vince, Tom and Kim, and Tom and Pat, the path ahead may get worse before it gets better but during this season we stand and kneel with them because right now their family, their friends, and their God mean more than ever.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, Pa. Responses can be emailed to email@example.com.