Walking Through the Pain Hand in Hand

Just after Thanksgiving, I was driving down the road by myself and a memory captured me. I remembered back 18 months when my dad had heart surgery. In my memory, we were standing in pre-op and I was considering counsel someone had given me. “Don’t leave anything unsaid,” they told me.

As I considered their advice that day before the operation, I couldn’t come up with anything. There was nothing unsaid, as far as I could tell. We had experienced some significant times and some routine times where the messages of love, respect, affirmation and appreciation were communicated.

That surgery went well, yet my dad coded afterwards. They revived him quickly, but it was a scare. I couldn’t understand why this memory was coming up to the point that it brought tears. Is there something I should have said that I didn’t?

It was within 24 hours from feeling and considering that memory that I got a message from my dad saying that he had to have heart surgery again. Now the memory had my attention as it came right on top of the news. Going into this one, is there something that needs to be said?

As the second surgery approached, I was incredibly uneasy about it. Was it just worry or was God stirring me prophetically?

Two nights before the operation, we had dinner with my dad and details he shared regarding the operation only left me more anxious. I was somewhat disengaged as I battled through the discomfort of disagreement.

The next morning, the day before the second surgery, I sent my dad a text, telling him basically; “I don’t have peace regarding the surgery. Please consider every possibility and it’s not too late to change the plan during the pre-op consult with the surgeon (to be held later that day).”

The grace of God was with me as I sent that message. My dad had the surgery and he died from it. What I believe was God’s prompting to not leave anything unsaid was for me, not him. He was going to have the surgery and his rationale was sound for why he was going to have the surgery. The outcome was tragic, but the torment of “what if” was disarmed from the exchange my dad and I had.

There were other “prophetic markers” leading up to the procedure that weren’t completely clear without the benefit of a retrospective view. Various touch points of God’s insight and presence even as we walked closer to the pain. The pain still came, but it wasn’t as surprising as it would have been otherwise, and I wasn’t alone.

God will walk with us and talk with us and let us in on what’s going on, but He won’t guarantee the outcomes. He’s not a genie, but He is a friend. He’ll be there when trouble comes, and trouble will come. Knowing God isn’t a lottery ticket; it’s the comfort of a Father’s hand to hold. There is comfort in His presence.

 

Community of Comfort

I was gathered with family recently and in the normal course of an abnormal time, one of the family members became sad and began to cry. The rest of us shifted our attention to the grief of the one and, before long, several were weeping. Nobody escalated the scene, but they assimilated with it. The gathering became a gathering of grief, at least for a while.

The family member that initiated the crying kind of apologized, but one of the others said they were thankful. They were thankful that they didn’t have to grieve alone. The grief was over the death of my father and everyone is feeling it, but differently. This particular time, everyone ended up feeling it simultaneously. It was there all along, but one person expressing it gave permission to the rest.

The health of the group grief was obvious. Nobody tried to fix what couldn’t be fixed. Nobody diverted with humor or “encouragement” that shortcuts the healthy processing of emotions. There was simply comfort in the community that agreed that the emotion of sadness and expression of grief was valid.

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

God is a God of comfort. In 2 Corinthians 1:3, it says that God is “God of all comfort.” Some form of the word “comfort” is used nine times in that passage. God is interested in comfort for those who are mourning, not fixing them.

All too often, we are uncomfortable in the expression of healthy emotion and we try to hijack it. Humor, re-direction, and other techniques might be employed to divert. For those that are religiously minded, we may want to preach, teach, testify or prophesy to avoid the uncomfortable.

Preaching and teaching engage with logic and logic doesn’t speak to emotion. Emotion speaks to emotion.

Testifying (“When that happened to me . . .”) makes it about us. It’s not about us in that moment; don’t rob the moment.

Prophesy of what God is going to do or how things are going to get better jumps ahead in the process of grief. It puts things out-of-order.

Just comfort by meeting the other in their emotion. Mourn with those who mourn. They are going to be comforted by the Comforter, so it’s best to just agree with Him and not try to fix them.

The Pain of Sutherland Springs is Real

I have to admit that when I when I initially hear news like the news out of South Texas yesterday regarding the shooting at a church, I am numb. The scene, reality and ramifications are abstract when I begin to consider them. The hurt is hard to imagine from the distance of the circumstances.

To make it more challenging, the frequency of these stories has numbed the pain of the reality. Las Vegas was just a few weeks ago and now this. There seems to be one right after the other and it’s hard to get your head around, much less your heart.

Yesterday as I was considering the situation in South Texas, I heard that the pastor of that little church was in Oklahoma with his wife yesterday but heading home. I also read that the pastor and his wife confirmed that their 14-year old daughter was among the dead. That did it for me; the abstract was tangible and my heart broke.

I am a pastor and I have a 14-year old daughter. I wept as I considered their pain and felt the reality of this tragedy. I prayed differently as I processed the human processing of grief. Their lives will never be the same and hers was robbed.

Part of my initial distance was the distraction of gun rights advocates and anti-gun advocates posturing on social media; hijacking the need to connect to the human reality. Political reasons, blame, rallies and reactions make things a Power Point presentation for the purpose of supporting a position. The task at hand is compassion and comfort, not convincing.

In this world, there is going to be trouble. No matter what. We are in a dark world and our only hope is the Light within. That Light within does not have a political agenda, He has a people agenda. He hurts for people and we are invited to agree with Him at times where tragedy seems abstract and politics seem relevant.

The Grace of Race

Public outcry, eloquent articles, denouncement, arrests and prosecutions or other reactive measures following Charlottesville won’t change the nation. The attempts will bring justice and/or clarify positions, but they won’t heal the condition that has resulted in these types of problems. The rhetoric and outbursts come from deeper roots.

President Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela, tweeted recently, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love . . . . For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Hate and anger have been fostered on the extremes of the race equation in America and there are incremental shades of hurt sewn all through the fabric of our nation. Without assessment of cause and origin, it’s fair to say that somebody has to go first to step towards healing.

People learn to hate because they hurt and fear. Anger is a secondary emotion. The healing of the hurt and the alleviation of fear will remove the anger, hate and rage. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incremental.

There is no program, policy or procedure that will fix it. There is only love. Love can only be transferred on heart at a time.

Transferring love one heart at a time requires grace. To give love, the person it is being given to must first be received. They must be received despite the fact that they are a person. A flawed, offensive, and even wrong person. The way to change their offensiveness is to receive them and love them. Ugh; right in the middle of their stuff that we want to react negatively to and maybe even punish.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to react to others like this. Only Christ followers. Only those that have been received by Him with His grace. Then, from the grace received from Jesus, we can distribute it to others. We don’t have to manufacture it.

This approach, however, is contrary to justice. There are arguments to be made which are based in justice that will tear down the call to give grace in order to impart love. That’s a choice; justice over grace. That’s a show stopper.

One heart at a time, grace upon grace, we are invited to love others. Jesus is in the reconciliation business and if you have been reconciled to Him, then you are qualified to join Him in that purpose (2 Corinthians 5). That’s what He’s doing, one heart at a time. We are invited to join Him.

Shades of Comparison Leave Us in the Dark

My path to vocational ministry is non-traditional.  Leading up to this transition in my occupation, I worked previously as an Army officer, business manager and owner as well as an attorney at law.  When I first practiced law, my primary focus was in the sphere of criminal defense.  The bulk of that criminal defense practice was representing court-appointed clients.  These were folks charged with a crime who couldn’t afford an attorney.

In those days when I talked about work or now when I tell stories about that time, some people have a noticeable reaction.  They make a face, however subtle, that indicates they can’t pay attention to the details because they are distracted by the arrangement.  “How could you represent those people? They aren’t Christians, and you are, so how could you represent them?”  Many times, it’s just the look, but sometimes it’s explicitly asked.  Church polite, of course, but asked just the same.

By contrast, one day walking out of the courthouse I called my wife and told her, “I can’t believe more Christians don’t choose the practice of law as their place of calling.”  After all, I reasoned, where else are you in a position where broken, desperate people come to you asking for your counsel and assistance?  Where else is light so necessary than in the darkest places of society?

Working closely with those whose lives were in peril of being consumed by darkness gave me a greater appreciation for light.  We all need some realization of darkness to remind us of the Light within.  We also need some realization of darkness to remind us of the darkness within.  The degree of separation between “them” and “us” is less than you might imagine.  A twist here and a turn there in life’s circumstances can lead people into situations both unplanned for and undesired.

The overlap in working with “church folks” and court-appointed folks is more similar than you might think, as well.  Sure, most of the church folks in the relatively privileged suburbs present themselves better than the accused of the court-appointed criminal justice system.  The underlying human condition, however, is just as dark.  People are people.

Here, however, is the biggest difference: Those accused and convicted of crimes realize the urgency and near hopelessness of their condition.  They know they need help.  They know they’re messed up and more often than not are desperate for any glimmer of hope.  The socially acceptable, comfortable Christians often think they have things figured out.  They rationalize that Jesus loves them regardless, and nobody (they hope) knows about their “indiscretions.”  And after all, their flaws aren’t as “bad” as the indigent criminal; likely not even perceived to be as bad as the rumors they’ve heard – and helped spread – about the guy across the pew.

Dark is dark and pretending it’s light by shades of comparison cheapens the grace of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die for us to be judgmental by comparison or dismissive of the heart in need of redemption.  He wants to transform us from glory to glory, but we can’t go to the next glory believing the glory we’ve already experienced somehow jumped us ahead to a place of superiority.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here

Pray for Mean Old Men and Watch Things Change

A friend from college came into town last night and we met for the first time in about 15 years. In the middle of talking, a man somewhat dramatically came through the door, doubled over and groaning. I asked him, “are you OK?” He told me that he had hurt his back. He continued on and that appeared to be the end of it, although he was pretty hunched over as he walked away.

As my friend and I continued to talk, I couldn’t get past the guy that had just gone past us. A minute or two after the initial encounter, I told my friend, “Hold on, I’ll be right back; I’ve got to go do something.”

I went and asked the man if I could pray for his back. I don’t always do that, but I sure was pulled to this time and I didn’t initially want to. That’s why it took a minute or two.

My friend and I were friends from a time in my life when I didn’t know Jesus. I would have never prayed for that man. Might have made fun of him, but would not have prayed. My hesitation was the reconciliation of the collision between a past life and a new life which was occurring for me. Would Jason think I was weird? Is this too much; do I seem like a religious nut? That was the source of my pause.

When I finally did ask the man to pray for him, he looked at me with a depth of need. He needed connection. He needed care. He needed prayer, and he said as much when I offered. With my left hand on his left shoulder and my right hand on his back, I said a simple prayer to invite healing and went back to my seat.

Not too much later, he came by and said, “it worked.” I replied, “I figured it would.” I figured that because I felt God in it from the minute the guy came through the door.

Not too much later, after the guy had left, the bartender asked me if I had prayed for him and I told her that I had. She said that he comes in all the time and is very mean. He cusses them out to the point that it brings them to tears. In fact, when he came in this time the manager told her that she was going to the back until he left.

Not tonight, though. He was kind tonight. It was totally different. Whatever happened, he was different, she said.

Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it like I almost did. The dynamic of the Kingdom of Heaven hitting earth changes people. It changes college buddies in the new normal of a re-framed reality. It changes mean old men. It changes bartenders. Let It change you.