In the eighties, my sister, my mother and I, separated by hundreds of miles, had a bonding ritual. Each week we would watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation" then call each other to have a little trekkie chat. My sister and I were completely unified in our mockery of Counselor Deanna Troi, an empath, a really irritating empath. She'd stand on the bridge, stare out into space and look pained. "I sense confusion [pain/sorrow/negative emotion du jour]" We were fairly certain that a good laxative would take care of poor Deanna's constant suffering.
Recently, I've felt a bit like the well-intentioned, but infinitely mockable Deanna as I stare into the vast Internet and feel the suffering. I wander around peeking into the lives of amazing people, their marriages, children, jobs. Their tragedies. It hurts and a laxative has given no relief. The pain is spiritual: the death of a loved one, the loss of faith, mental illness, disability, unemployment, poverty, pregnancy complications, the sorrows of real people I have come to love.
I promised when I was baptized that I was willing to mourn with those who mourn, to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. When a local friend has a miscarriage, I can hold her, cry with her, bring her a casserole and some helpful herbs. When an Internet friend suffers a miscarriage, all I can do is cry and pray that someone will hold her, bring her a casserole, and maybe some helpful herbs.
Perhaps there is some wisdom in the concept of not becoming emotionally involved with strangers, but as I ponder the Savior taking upon himself all of the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain of the world, I have a have a hard time believing that emotional distance is how we become more Christ-like. So I pray and occasionally send a poem. It's really all I can do which is, I guess, better than what Deanna, the hand-wringer, would do.
Life is pain. The joy that the scriptures talks about is not smiling through the death of a child, or humming happily as someone relearns how to walk. It is an eternal joy that comes when Jesus who vicariously suffered for us, who knows and loves us, removes the pain, brings peace to the troubled, heals the scars, and makes us whole again.