Two weeks ago, after Mass, a friend of ours gave me a book to read. He was excited to share this book with me, so excited in fact that he told me he needed it back when I was done because he was anxious for his wife to read it. When I asked him why not give it to his wife to read it first – because he was encouraging me to read a page a day which would take 228 days to read – he insisted he wanted to offer it to me first. ???
The book is: Little House on the Freeway: Help for the Hurried Home by Tim Kimmel, PhD. If I were to try to explain the book in four words, besides the obvious message in the title it would be: put people above possessions. I know everyone who reads it will have a different summed up description but that’s mine. As the title suggests, it’s basically about how hurried our lives have become and how when we try to keep up on the freeway without question we lose the rest God intended for us.
I was unsuccessful at reading a page a day as I was done in less than a week and had even taken eleven pages of notes! Most of it was very practical information. There were chapters on forgiveness, living within one’s limits, having an eternal perspective on life, managing one’s expectations and strengths, etc. But the chapter I was most interested in was on serving while suffering.” I confess though that as I approached that chapter I could feel the tension building up in my body and my guard went up. So far the author had not given any indication that he had met with any serious suffering in his life so I could feel the tension as I waited for his ‘expert advice’ that would send the book flying across the room.
To my surprise he didn’t offer any direct advice of his own, instead he turned to the example of the One who knows suffering more than most of us can even imagine – Jesus! He went on to briefly point out how Jesus was also bewildered, badgered, broken, and battered – his four broad categories of those who are suffering and why. Then he went on to explain Jesus’ response and solution to His suffering:
1. The solution of Acceptance – when, after His terrible agony in the garden, He accepted the inevitable and His acceptance of His circumstances, with confidence in His Father’s plan, He was able to proceed with calmness and determination.
2. The solution of Serving – “Jesus knew that rest doesn’t come in serving yourself but in serving others. He knew that His own pain could never be an excuse for ignoring the pain of others.” The three ways He served from the cross: took care of His mother in giving her to John to care for [and a mission for her to care for ‘John’ (the church)], encouraged and welcomed the ‘good thief’, prayed for those who were inflicting His sufferings, and He forgave.
You know how when we read the same Scripture passage at different times in our lives it can jump out at us with a new meaning depending on where we are at at that time, well after being made aware of the example Jesus gave us to follow when we’re suffering the passage: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up His cross and follow Me ” has taken on a whole new perspective. It was like I could hear Jesus saying, “See, you thought that in your intense pain and loneliness that you were all alone. Now you can see that I am with you.”
Using Jesus’ example during His suffering has given me much to ponder and meditate on and it feels like another stick in which to build my raft. Or maybe not a stick but a sail to keep me moving and to help me catch the wind of the Holy Spirit as He guides me back to shore.
But then the author went on to suggest that Jesus’ solutions may not satisfy us because we want ‘relief’. “And yet the biblical message of rest is that your relief may come from the power you gain when you accept your suffering. Your relief may come from the strength you develop from serving in spite of it.” This line is where I was tempted to throw the book across the room. To me it reaffirmed the fact that the author is definitely not speaking from experience, because ‘relief’ suggests an end to suffering, whereas there are some sufferings that have no true end – at least not in this life.
To me, what he missed because he wasn’t coming from a place of experience is that Jesus’ ultimate action and example was His unwavering trust in God’s love for Him in the midst of His suffering and that our ‘relief’ comes from staying close to Jesus, the One who knows and understands our sufferings. To know we’re not alone, that He is with us; because one thing that intensifies the suffering is that feeling that we’re all alone in it. And to learn from Him that He drew His strength from His relationship with His Father and didn’t doubt His Father’s love even in the midst of His indescribable suffering. It’s been my experience so far that what Jesus gives us is not ‘relief’ but the strength and focus to endure the pain. Plus as John Paul II in his letter on human suffering or Peter Kreeft’s book on Making Sense of Suffering pointed out – Jesus gave our suffering purpose which also gives us the strength to endure. **
At the beginning when I said I would sum the book up with the words ‘people above possessions’, the other thing I found myself pondering after reading it is how in my own life, the sufferings I have experience at the loss of people is completely different from the loss of possessions/desires/wants/dreams. It’s incredible how someone can come into our lives, even if for such a short time, but when they leave they can leave such a huge hole in our hearts, lives, and literally leave us devastated. Possessions don’t have that same effect. Things, in and of themselves, don’t hold meaning; it’s their connection to people that gives them meaning. It’s interesting too how well we know the saying, ‘We can’t take it with us when we die.’ That is definitely true for possessions but not for the love we have for people and their imprints on us.
I know for myself, everything that was Bernadette’s holds great meaning to me right now. So much so that when Johanna moved out two weeks ago, I cried for an hour when she took Bernadette’s bed. Not because I have any attachment to the bed itself but to what it represented. It feels as if when things that were Bernadette’s begin to disappear as our needs change a little bit of her presence disappears too. I also know that I’d choose the person over the possession in a heartbeat.
In the end, I confess that my friend’s excitement was well founded and I’m glad he lent me his book. Little House on the Freeway felt like a road sign, assuring us that we as a family are on the right road – even in our suffering.
**Now that I’ve ranted about what I read and I’ve had a moment to think about it, I must confess that there is a chance that Kimmel did write what I accused him of missing, it’s just that I didn’t write it in my notes so it seems unlikely. Unfortunately I’ve returned the book to my friend so I can’t go back and confirm it.
“Using Jesus’ example during His suffering has given me much to ponder and meditate on and it feels like another stick in which to build my raft. Or maybe not a stick but a sail to keep me moving and to help me catch the wind of the Holy Spirit as He guides me back to shore.” Wow! What beautiful writing! Thank you for sharing your insights and your journey.