I have always been comfortable putting my thoughts down on paper, but what most lyricists struggle with is the limit of the written word. While some writers can certainly paint a compelling tapestry of the human experience, it can still be hard to capture the depth and breadth of what happens in the confines of the heart.
Last week I traveled north with my family and a number of friends from our community. We went to say goodbye to our friend Ryan, a young man who passed away at the age of 14. Both Ryan and his brother Tyler were born with an extremely rare disorder. Tyler passed away a decade ago at the age of two, and while Ryan had moments of hope and victory during his life, he spent more than his fair share of time in hospitals and doctor’s offices. His life was brief, and full of physical pain.
Watching people like Ryan suffer can make us doubt our faith, and pose the inevitable “why him?” question to God. Why would God allow such a wonderful kid to suffer throughout his life? Why would God put his amazing parents through the agony of watching both of their precious children be taken from them after years of sleepless nights and exhaustive care?
Those of us who knew Ryan were blessed to spend time with him. Throughout his life he just wanted to be a normal kid, but the body he was given did not allow for him to ever experience anything resembling a regular routine for long. And yet, Ryan had an amazing faith, an incredible sense of worship, and a cheerful spirit that at times was almost impossible to believe. How could a kid who had experienced so much have such a kind spirit and a positive outlook on life?
When you study history, you read a lot of stories about great men and women who make discoveries, start movements, and have a measurable impact on the development of society. While these narratives can be inspiring, I can honestly say that Ryan and his parents are some of the most inspiring people I have ever been privileged to know. They are, in many ways, why I continue to do what I do.
We all face struggles in life. Some are physical and others are emotional. All of us face daily spiritual challenges. What Ryan has provided for me is perspective, and his example is a constant reminder that I need to keep serving others around me.
If a young man like Ryan, broken as he was physically, can inspire us with his faith, insightful perspective, and amazing smile, how much can I do with the drive, health, and energy that God has given me? How much can we do to embrace neighbors, reach out to those in need, and help spread the love of Jesus to our fellow brothers and sisters?
During the memorial service, both of Ryan’s parents spoke. Each spoke beautifully, painting many pictures of Ryan’s life that we knew well, and some that we didn’t. Ryan’s dad shared a thought that I will seek to remember for the rest of my life. He said that Ryan endured his suffering so that we might take notice. It was a powerful reminder that it is so easy for us to look away when we see the pain of others. Whether it is a person on the street, a co-worker, or a sweet boy in a hospital bed, we are often tempted to look away so that we minimize our own pain. Ryan’s suffering is a reminder to me that we are all called to care for those who struggle, even if it causes us to take on a small piece of their agony.
One other thought that Ryan’s dad shared is that it is okay to be broken. So often in life we want to propose a simple solution to a problem so that we can get back to the happier things of life. We want to believe that there is some reasonable explanation for human failure, and that there must be a straightforward solution that doesn’t require us to get involved too deeply. Ryan’s life was never going to be simple, and his dad told us that his son came to grips with how he was made. Can we follow that example and make peace with the brokenness of this world?
I must confess that I felt some shame at that memorial service, for I have complained about so many petty things in my life. I have sought after earthly comforts, wished for verbal encouragement from my peers, desired notoriety, and wondered why others receive things that I don’t. In addition, there have been so many days where I have experienced unrelenting frustration because I cannot fix everything on my own, rather than laying my burdens at the feet of Jesus.
What I often forget is that my challenges are nothing compared to what so many others have experienced, and continue to battle on a daily basis. We are surrounded by daily suffering, but despite all of that, we still think of ourselves. How dare I ask for more when I have not endured even of sliver of Ryan’s earthly suffering?
Ryan is no longer in pain. He is playing catch with his little brother and waiting for his incredible parents to eventually join him for a wonderful family reunion. The rest of us are left behind, and we must come to grips with our mixed feelings.
Life does go on, and we must all face the reality that some of our loved ones are no longer with us in a physical sense. While it may seem counter to how humans process hurt, part of me wants to remember the pain I am feeling. I don’t want to forget, because there is still work to do. The pastor who spoke noted that Ryan got the most out of a life that was short in our estimation. Why can’t we?
You, the reader of this post, have a purpose. You have strength, even if it seems finite. You have gifts, even if they seem limited. You have the opportunity to love your neighbors, even those who are outside your circle.
In the end, how do you want to be remembered? As someone who did well by earthly standards? Or as someone who embraced the Bible’s call to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?
Ryan, thank you for inspiring us and for living out Micah 6:8. We will seek to follow your example.