He spoke about suffering. Putting aside the theological debates surrounding the “problem of pain,” “why bad things happen to good people,” and “sovereignty,” to speak about the One who knows suffering intimately. He knew that those who were not yet acquainted with grief wouldn’t understand the message. He spoke from his heart.
There will always be individuals who never really know grief, choosing to quote it away with religious platitudes, or push it deep under the surface where it can’t be revealed, felt, or understood. A “new creation” means the past is over. Deal with it.
I held back the tears as I listened to his words. I know the place he spoke from, not just from my story, but from the thousands of others whose pain I now share. Afterwards I spoke to another minister of the Good News, whose kindness and remembrance of me touched my heart. Later, I shared with him and his wife the deep healing I have experienced in the past year, admitting I had almost given up believing I would be completely free of symptoms of PTSD. Free from anger. Free to love.
I left for the first time in three years thinking perhaps I was finding a home in this community, as I have found my home rooted firmly in the unconditional love of Christ. Finally settled in a church with people who dare to love deeply, and are learning to risk wildly; and in Christian community of fellow ministers I can connect with under the cross of Christ. People who listen to the story of pain and redemption woven deeply into the lives of others; fragile humanity who endeavors to feel the souls of those they meet. People who understand that relationships take work – in truth.
Last week I spoke to one of my daughters who shared about an important relationship – a future relative – who doesn’t care to listen to her when she speaks. If she begins to share who she is, desiring to develop a relationship based on truth, the other person immediately preaches, lectures, and attempts to convince her of her need to change her thinking, and the error of her ways. She no longer tries to have a relationship with this person, settling instead for superficiality and shallow, non-redemptive words.
I mentioned that people react this way from their own defenses, out of their own pain and fear. I apologized for behaving this way myself during her childhood. Mostly I listened. Why is it more important for the church in this country to do – to speak, rather than to be. Why are we as Christ followers as competitive as the world we live in? Do we hear His words to be in the world but not of it?
People are more interested in defending their beliefs than listening to another’s pain.
Jesus humbly washed the feet of the ones He loved, even to the one who would betray Him to death. Perhaps when someone opens their mouth to speak, we need to pick up the towel and bowl as He did and humble ourselves by listening.
If we listen to the story of another – their beliefs, their pain – we have to admit that some things in the cosmos simply don’t make sense. Maybe we don’t have all the answers. Maybe God is slightly bigger than our understanding of temporal things. We have to acknowledge that if bad things can happen to them, then perhaps they could happen to us. We have to accept that what is theoretical in our lives could very well become experiential. It requires humility to embrace the opinion of another, rather than defend the truth we think we know.
We need to be attentive in listening, learning, and finding the Sacred in the lives of others, rather than focusing on theological differences.
There is no greater story in a person’s life than the one that rings of redemption. Without the suffering of Christ, we would not have been redeemed by Him. If we were to sit at His feet right now, would we be more interested in speaking to Him about the reasons for His suffering, or which of our beliefs held the most theological truth? Would it really matter if our lives had been played as chess pieces or as a result of our own choices? Or would we lean into His suffering and embrace Him, experiencing the pain, joy, and redemption that we hold common?
As I approached my home last night I began to weep uncontrollably. I sat in my car in the driveway, and for a moment I was taken back to the trauma of my son’s death, the brutality of pain, and the wounds of my soul. I leaned deeply into the grief as I leaned deeply into Christ. I felt the warmth of His blood as it poured down and covered me. I experienced the embrace of His resurrected joy. I no longer ask Him why.
It no longer matters.
Just as Peter taught in last night’s message, it wasn’t my theology that held me in that moment of pain – it was the presence of Christ and His wounds. We have been given an opportunity to hold others in their pain as we listen and bow before the One who makes all wounds equal.
May God help us to be better listeners this Lenten season as our own healing pours forth as a balm upon others.
It is by His wounds we are made whole.