My best friend and her husband are both academics in Vienna and between them have more degrees than the average thermostat. Apart from their PhD’s they also speak a variety of languages (ancient and modern, I will have you know). When I am with them, they sometimes discuss matters so complex and intricate that I just zone out and submit to the fact that I cannot understand what they are unpacking. It is way above my intellect.

Right now, I feel like life is a bit like that. I am just showing up and doing the little things I know I am able to do without trying to understand the bigger picture.

On Friday a new guest arrived. He is an athlete, has eaten healthily his whole life, never smoked, didn’t drink. He is checking in for end-of-life care after a horrible diagnosis and a cancer so brutally aggressive that it has already robbed him of his speech and mobility. His family is reeling under the amount of admin that medical aid requires, while desperately trying to make every precious moment left with him count. It is awful and unfair and revolting. No words or sentiment can make this reality better.

On the same day as our guest checked in, my domestic worker’s son came home after spending three weeks in a government hospital. He has survived an attempt to end his life by jumping from a seven-storey building. He is broken and battered, but he is alive and set to make a full recovery. His doctor at Charlotte Maxeke tells me that it is a miracle. She has never seen anyone this lucky to not only survive the fall, but to only have a few broken bones to show for it. No paralysis, no internal injuries, no brain damage. A miracle?

How do I even begin to grasp this irony? How dare I pretend I can fathom either of these two people’s journeys ahead? Our empathy and understanding will not get us very far in really living their experiences, so we do the only thing we can do – try to love them well, to support them, to listen to them and to care for their families.

Another struggle with which I am battling with at the moment is the phenomenon of the desperate parents of children who are ill, clinging with unwavering certainty to the belief that complete recovery is guaranteed. I have experienced the disappointment  too many times, with too many families. When parents grab on to any promise or any sign that their child will be healed, seeing signs and prophecies and announcing this to the world. I blame the prosperity gospel mongers, the “name-it-and-claim-it” disciples who assure us of a God that operates as some sort of cosmic butler or vending machine. To the world it is announced that God is some transactional being: if we get enough believers, or enough people who pray, or if you have enough faith, God can be manipulated into giving you your miracle to which you are entitled.I wish it worked like that, but it doesn’t. I have seen the miracles, more than I ever thought I would, but I have also wept over many unanswered prayers and the kids who died, or didn’t ever fully recover. As if those events in themselves are not hard enough, the damage goes further. The friends and the family that believed so passionately alongside the family that healing is imminent often don’t only lose that healthy child, but also often lose their faith.

I am totally unqualified to discuss this, and only see my role as the one who helps pick up the pieces when the supernatural interventions do not occur, and one who can celebrate alongside the family when they do joyfully transpire. This is a topic so sensitive and with the potential to hurt and destroy with such vigor that I tread carefully around it, but it is a reality that we deal with every day in our line of work. I scream a silent scream of desperation and fear when parents show me a cross on their child’s MRI, which to them is a  sign guaranteeing  his imminent cure, or share with me that a prophet dreamt that their child would receive that vital organ or, that when they change their baby’s name, his life will be saved. I scream inwardly, but just listen without speaking. How dare I take away their hope?

In study after study, article after article, with many statistics to back it, it is evident that this generation is the unhappiest ever. How is this possible? We have better health care, we have more money, we are more connected. We live longer, but why are we so terribly miserable? Dr Tim Keller believes it is because this is the first generation which is so secular. It is the first generation that mostly believe that we have “one life, so live it”. We see time as linear and are under pressure to make this one chance we get at life amazingly wonderful and to get what we deserve. We take entitlement to the very next level. We want careers, disposable income, work-life-balance, health, fame, sublime sex lives and deep meaningful relationships that require no sacrifice and longevity. If you are a bit uncomfortable in your marriage, you just leave. If you don’t like your job, you say so and make your demands, or resign and try the next thing you think will make you happier. You’d rather pop a pill than change a lifestyle and you are absolutely, without a doubt entitled to abundant happiness.

Is this why we are so aggrieved when things do not work out, so much less accepting than generations before us? Do we think we deserve better?

I don’t know. These are very big questions with very unsatisfactory answers that don’t fit neatly into our transactional, rational existence that leaves no room for things we cannot understand.

What I do understand and know from experience however, is that when things are at their most painful, grace arrives.

Each time.

Without fail.

In every single instance, whether it was an unexpected death, a devastating diagnosis, a trauma so severe you can hardly express it, the human spirit rises, every single time… in community, in strength, in frailty and in faith