We all love to fix things. It feels good to make something go from messy and complicated to neat and tidy. We’re naturally inclined to restore order when things run amok; I know I personally get a lot of satisfaction when I can make things right. For the most part, our urge to fix can solve many of the simple problems we encounter daily; what we most desire to repair, however, is ironically what we are incapable of fixing: one another.
Each one of us has deep inside something that needs to be fixed, based on the simple fact that we are human and therefore imperfect. It’s frustrating and saddening when we witness the suffering loved ones experience from their brokenness, and realize that we cannot fix them. We can pray, we can give advice, we can love, and we can listen, but we cannot fill a void in another person that can only be filled by God. We also cannot force another person to experience God, because God speaks directly to our hearts in a special, unique language that we will understand; this means that we cannot always interpret the ways that God is working in the hearts of others.
In a passage from Tattoos On the Heart (which, you may start to notice, I quote a lot!), Father Greg Boyle describes the dream of one of the gang members (homies, he calls them) that he works with. Following the murder of his brother, who was also a gang member, the homie has a dream that he and his brother are in a dark room, and they cannot find the light switch. The homie somehow knows that only his brother can turn on the light—he cannot do it for him. Suddenly, the homie realizes that he has a flashlight, and he turns it on and points it at the light switch, illuminating the path to the switch for his brother. The dream ends with the homie’s brother turning on the switch and flooding the room with light.
I think that this is an extremely powerful image of how we are called to support one another in our times of darkness. Though we may desire it, we cannot fix brokenness or undo someone’s suffering—we just can’t flip the light switch and remove the darkness for them. What we can do is allow God to provide us with flashlights to illuminate the path to the light switch. I think that even in our darkest times, we all have a light switch inside of us, waiting to be flipped. We all carry some kind of struggle with us, and we all experience that feeling of grappling in the dark for the light switch. We feel lonely when we wonder how we will ever overcome what challenges us most, and afraid when we are faced with emptiness inside ourselves. When we allow others into our darkness by sharing our suffering, we give them the opportunity to serve as lights that point us in the direction of healing. We can shine light for one another, because while we all experience darkness, we also all have flashlights.
While we cannot always remove others’ suffering, we can guide them on their path to healing with our prayers, support, kindness, and love. We cannot turn on the light switch for them, but we can accompany them on their journey and provide them with the light they need to carry on. We cannot fix people, but we can exude love in such a way that they are strengthened by our presence. We cannot force people to go to God for healing, but if we enter into the darkness of their lives and radiate God’s love, they will be attracted to the light.