A few years back my father gave me a book about grief that he thought I should read.  He gave it to me along with several others and because I have more books to read than time to read them it somehow got lost in the shuffle of my life.  Unpacking the other day the book resurfaced and something in the title grabbed me.  I put the book on my nightstand thinking I might actually stay awake long enough some evening to peak into it.

 I was hesitant about a book on grief but finally I took a look.  It’s not an easy read but I’ve been very touched by the meditations in it.  I think we’re all grieving something at any particular stage in life and for me right now the stories in this book have been timely.  One of those is a Tibetan fable.  It is the story of Krisha Gotami.  If you are a Buddhist it’s a story that you are probably familiar with.  Where Christian’s know the story of Job and his suffering Buddhists know the story of Krisha.

For a variety of reasons I just haven’t been able to get this fable out of my mind.  One of those is that my friend Kelly who I’ve written about in a previous post is daily fighting the good fight of faith as she watches her son suffer.  With every coming and going from my house when I look across the street I whisper a prayer for this family.  At times I feel like I’m begging for God’s intervention in these prayers and in some ways I am but certainly not like Kelly must be.

I have not walked in Kelly’s shoes but I know that as a mother I struggle with wanting things for my children that at times seem out of reach.  This morning a teacher working with my youngest son was sharing with me some struggles he was having and it was all I could do in the meeting to stay composed and not start crying.  I saved my tears for later when I shared my feelings with my own Mom.

Perhaps that is why the tale of Krisha has come to mean so much to me lately.  If you’re not familiar with it Krisha is a young woman who gave birth to a son.  When he was year old he fell ill and died.  In her grief Krisha walked through her city holding her son in her arms begging for medicine to bring him back to life.  She was ignored, scoffed at and others thought her mad.  She came upon a man who told her that Buddha could help her.  She went to Buddha and told him her story.  He listened and then told Kisha that he would help her if she could bring him a mustard seed from a home in her city that had not known death.

Believing this was possible Krisha set out to find a mustard seed.  She went door to door and at every household was told by the owner that she could not be helped.  Every home had seen death.  Krisha was then finally able to say goodbye to her child and bury him.  She returned to Buddha to tell him that she understood what he was trying to teach her admitting that she was too blinded by her own grief to see that we all suffer.

I’ve read the story over and over and I’m moved by it for more reasons than I can possibly write about.  However, one detail in the story strikes me more than anything and that is the mustard seed.  Krisha only had to find one mustard seed and Buddha would have restored her child to life.  I realize this Buddhist tale is meant to point out the universality of suffering.  This is an idea that is not readily embraced by the American outlook on life where we look at health and happiness as a promise life makes to us.  Buddhists, however, believe that all of life is suffering and that only by eliminating desire can we eliminate suffering.

If you’re a Christian and believe what the Bible says you have to consider what Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This tells us yes we are going to have troubles and suffer and yet we can take heart.  That is a statement filled with promise and counters the idea that desire is the root of all our suffering.

When you tell someone to take heart you are telling them to hang on to something.  You’re telling them to hang on to their hopes and dreams.  This says that hopes and dreams are okay to have which means we do get to want for things.  We get to want to see people healed physically, emotionally, spiritually, and even financially.  We are allowed to desire life abundantly.  The Scriptures tell us this over and over. This has to mean it is never wrong to seek after healing of any kind.  Never – ever!   I’m thankful to know this because I pray for healing everyday for my children.  Not in every area of their life but I ask God to heal what needs healing.

Was Krisha a fool to be seeking out healing?  Should she have just acquiesced to her suffering? No, especially when all she needed to find was a mustard seed.  Oh how I wish she had met a disciple with a worldview different than Buddha.  A disciple could have told her that she didn’t have to go out and find a mustard seed.  A mustard-seed-sized faith was already available to her.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit available to every believer in Christ she could have a faith that big.

This is a poignant reminder for me because what I know from experience is that faith is a fruit of the spirit which means I don’t have to go out and find it I just have to nurture it.  This is a relief because as hard as I try I can’t always find a mustard seed in my heart or anywhere else.   Intellectually I have that much faith but often my heart just isn’t there.  The faith I muster up in my mind doesn’t sink into my heart.  I wish it did because then I would have an enormous faith.

I think this is where honesty is required.  If we can believe that our desire for healing and wholeness in life is acceptable to God then we can ask for the faith to believe that healing is possible.  We can admit that we have the desire but we don’t have the faith or maybe one should say “hope” to go with it.  This frames the picture differently.   Without the necessary hope to accompany our desire our spirit is flat.  The animating energy that we need to sustain us just isn’t there.

I wonder if in the big picture scheme of things what Krisha Gotami was really asking for was the peace hope brings.  In the face of any devastating loss isn’t the faith to survive it part of what we seek?  We want what was lost back but we also want to know if that is not possible that we can endure without it.

This is a hard place to be at emotionally and yet it’s the best place to truly meet the Holy Spirit.  This is where you can learn that it’s not through your strength that hope is created it’s through the Spirit.   The fruit called “faith” is a spontaneous filling up by the Spirit of God and is available simply by asking.  Not door to door from others, like Krisha was told to seek, but in our daily conversation with God – if necessary, in our minute by minute conversations with God.  To humbly ask for hope the size of a mustard seed or as big as a tree is a request God will always honor. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  (Psalms 34:18)

  1. Boy, when I was younger all I wanted to do was avoid suffering. What young person doesn’t? Add to that some erroneous teaching that Jesus’ suffering ended our suffering and I missed a lot of years in sharing in the Lord’s suffering. And as the Serenity Prayer states, embracing suffering is a pathway to peace. And all that willing myself to have faith!! I can laugh about it now, but how true it is that our desire to have faith is a gift in itself. That all good things come from above. It broke my heart to get honest and admit I didn’t even have the faith of a mustard seed. I do, at least, have a measure of faith. Just enough to keep me clinging to Jesus. Have a blessed Lenten season, Karen, and thank you, thank you for giving me comfort while giving me something to meditate on. Jan

  2. I found your blog post provocative and interesting.

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