Posts Tagged ‘compassion

05
Nov
21

EST-CE QUE TU PARLES FRANCAIS?

Joan and I have been in the south of France for the past week.

And when I say, “the south of France,” I mean THE SOUTH. As in, imagining we hear banjos and guitars having a pick-off duel as we round every turn in the road. 

In French, of course.

Don’t get me wrong… this is a beautiful place. Full of vineyards, ancient stone castles, quaint villages, winding roads and craggy hillsides. It is breathtakingly romantic and serene.

Except that NOBODY here speaks a word of English. As a matter of fact, I am not sure they know any language besides French even exists.

And so, as we have navigated our way through the amazing little towns of Boutenac, Carcassone, Minerve, Lezignan, and Coulliere, we learned to get by with some quick, seat-of-the-pants translating. When ordering lunch, for example, we had to figure out that it would not kill us to choose something off the Poisson section of the menu. It just meant we would get a nice piece of grilled fish. 

We also learned that adding a dash of cannelle to our morning coffee would give it a flavorful little kick.

Waitresses and hotel clerks and retailers regularly took pity on us and used their back-pocket English when we appeared to struggle. But for the most part, we were a couple of odd ducks wherever we went. Which – I have to admit – was kind of a new experience for both of us. 

Because, you see, most of the time, I am alert, aware, comfortable with my surroundings, and on top of my game. In my native habitat, stuff doesn’t fluster me… unless, of course, we are talking about finding ANYTHING in the grocery store! And so, the experience of being in a place where I am different… where I am lost and unsure… where I am The Other… was unsettling and frankly disorienting.

It also made me realize that it is not necessary to travel in France with a limited-to-nonexistent French vocabulary to feel out of place. Often all it takes to feel like un poisson hors de l’eau is to be a member of any non-advantaged group. 

Those of us who – because of our race, gender, ableness, or economic class – begin life on second base, are told (and believe) the story that we hit a double. We inherited the FastPass at Disneyland and can’t, for the life of us, figure out why everyone else is still standing in that silly line. We get the grades, we get the help, we get the jobs, and we get the dream… in many cases all because of factors we have zero control over. 

And so, it comes as a very unwelcome shock any time we find ourselves standing on the outside – of ANYTHING! – looking in. 

Most of the time when this kind of disquieting, uncomfortable moment happens to us, we moan and wail and kvetch. “This totally sucks!” is one of our more popular refrains.

But what if we used these pinch-point moments for a different purpose? What if we used them instead as a moment of awakening? What if we recognized them as a time when SEEDS are being sown? 

Seeds of insight… seeds of compassion… seeds of understanding.

What if – when the time comes when the cards all seem to be stacked against us, we cocked our heads, opened our ears, and heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV) and paid special attention in that verse to the word ALL?

What if?

That would sure be tres bon, wouldn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

01
Nov
21

My Saints

He was a slick-fielding, light hitting second baseman for the church softball team.

He sold microscopes for the E. Leitz Company.

Later, he heard a call that changed not only his life, but the lives of everyone in his family.

He taught me how to tie a tie, shine my shoes, throw a spiral, dry the dishes, and dig a hole.

He wielded The Paddle.

He whistled duotone harmonies.

He struggled. He persevered. He dreamed. He played. He sang. He laughed. He cried.

He served his family, his church, his community, and his God.

He taught me how to see the unseen, seek justice, speak for the voiceless, advocate for those on the margins.

He was my dad.

She saw the world at an early age.

She was the darling pet of her three brothers.

She wrote prolifically and well.

She always made sure her children knew they were safe and loved.

She threw a baseball “just like a boy.”

She baked the best, most fragrant bread in the world.

She loved her God and her neighbor as herself.

She loved, supported, encouraged, and followed her husband through thick and thin.

She was beautiful.

She was my mom.

These are the first saints I think of today, on this “All Saints Day.” 

They are the most important ones who shaped my life in profound, lasting ways… but far from the only ones.

They both taught me that as they lived, they also stood on the shoulders of others… paying forward the blessings conferred on them.

Today, in some small way, I hope I have followed their example. 

I love you mom and dad… and all the other saints I’ve been privileged to meet along the way.

Abundant blessings;

18
Aug
21

Mercy Me

WARNING: This post sounds a lot more like a rant than a thoughtful, well-considered pondering. But let’s withhold judgment for a minute and see where it goes. 

“London calling!”

Who knows? We might end up with something with depth and meaning after all…

Todd* was supposed to be there this morning at 9:00 to help with some yard work. Ever since my back has chosen to betray me, I have started hiring folks to help with the heavy stuff around the yard.

Except Todd didn’t show. Todd didn’t text to say, “Hey, sorry, something came up.” It is now five hours later and not a peep from Todd.

I have no idea where Todd is or whether something horrible possibly happened to him.

I sure hope not because I really like Todd.

Earlier this year we had a similar experience with our remodeling contractor.

No show. No communication. No response to repeated attempts to connect saying, “Hey! What’s happening?”

Finally, out of the blue, after many weeks of radio silence, we finally received a brief note saying, “We’re on it.”

Ah, the small magic and MASSIVE benefit of simple COMMUNICATION. When it happens, it is like oil poured over wounds of anxiety. When it doesn’t, it is like salt rubbed into those same wounds.

I know that sometimes you have nothing to report. I know that sometimes you have bad news that you are very, very reluctant to share. I know that sometimes you are up to your eyeballs in alligators and can’t even think straight, let alone take the time to shoot me a quick note.

I know all of that because I have been on your end of the equation MANY times. 

But you obviously have no idea how calming it is to receive SOMETHING from you. Even if it is just a quick note to say, “Hey… sorry. I know you’re waiting for this, but I don’t have it yet. And honestly, I am not sure when I will. I’ll keep you posted.”

Even a note as simple as that is enormously comforting.

In the end, it is about empathy, isn’t it? It is about nurturing the ability to step wholly into the shoes (or for me today, the flip-flops) of another person and be able to feel their feelings… to silence the “me” – even momentarily – and listen to the “you.”

Now that I think of it that way, I realize Jesus had a few words to say on the subject after all. No, I don’t mean the subject of non-communicative contractors. I mean the subject of EMPATHY. Except when Jesus talked about empathy, he used a different word. He called it “mercy.” For a great parable about the importance of empathy/mercy, flip to Luke 10:30-37 in your Bibles and read all about the man from Samaria who stopped and helped the man from Judea who had been beaten and robbed and left by the roadside to die. 

I don’t know if it really is true or not (because I haven’t given it enough thought), but I am going to conclude today by suggesting that good COMMUNICATION is ultimately about EMPATHY. It is all about the act of taking the time to stop and asking myself, “If our roles were reversed, what would I want to hear from me?”

That’s it. Did that all sound too petty and peevish?

Anyway… if you hear anything from Todd, let him know I am worried about him, OK?

Abundant blessings;

* Not his real name

12
Aug
21

Well, I declare!

Despite instincts to the contrary, I regularly try to keep an open mind.

Life has shown me again and again the hazards of latching – iron-fistedly – onto a particular thesis or paradigm.

God seems to take great delight, in fact, at throwing cherry bombs into the middle of my settled certainties and watching as they are blown to smithereens.

Multiple burned fingertips and shrapnel wounds have taught me to tread very, very carefully before puffing out my chest and declaring, “HERE I STAND! MY FEET SHALL NOT BE MOVED!!”

[I have no such hesitation, you understand, when it comes to standing up and declaring Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That is what we refer to as a “layup.”]

All of which is prelude for this moment of puffing out my chest, ascending the soap box and declaring, 

“HERE I STAND… MY FEET SHALL NOT BE MOVED!! COVID VACCINES SAVE LIVES and CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL.”

I feel compelled to make these declarations for one simple reason; because WAY too many people are sending exactly the opposite message (with great conviction, I might add) to the peril of MILLIONS of humans… present and future.

They say, for example; “Whether I am vaccinated or not is a matter of personal freedom.”

BZZZZT! WRONG ANSWER! Vaccination is a matter of community compassion, not personal freedom. Because of the VERY lethal and VERY infectious nature of this disease, your decision NOT to vaccinate endangers ME, your neighbors, your family, and total strangers. 

Contrary to what someone might have told you, you are not free to kill people.

They also cry; “The climate has gone through cycles of increasing and decreasing temperatures for eons. All this ‘climate emergency’ nonsense is just a liberal plot against Big Business.”

BZZZT! SORRY… WRONG AGAIN, Chucko. In defense of my central premise, I’m not going to wear you out with a lot of mind-numbing statistics. Instead, I am going to ask you to visualize our Precious Blue Marble as a living organism… sort of like a human body. 

(This analogy is not actually as far-fetched as you might imagine. Google “Gaia Hypothesis” – or click here – and read it for yourself.)

Then I am going to ask you to imagine what happens when you repeatedly inhale poisonous smoke into that body, or repeatedly wound its outer layer of skin. 

For a while, it doesn’t seem to matter much. But then that abuse eventually catches up. The relentless assault overwhelms the healing process. Permanent damage starts being done. 

And that is what we are seeing today with unprecedented events like the flooding, hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, and droughts that are all happening at the same time.

Once again, people will cry, “PERSONAL FREEDOM!” and yet again they are as wrong as wrong can be. Action that will prevent our planet from burning, shaking, flooding, or choking to death is – yet again – a matter of community compassion. 

The apostle Paul hit the nail right on the head for BOTH of these issues when he sent his first letter to the members of the church in Corinth, Greece. He was trying to resolve issues of dissension in this fledgling church by reminding them of their common bond and connection when he wrote, “Or do you not know that [each of your bodies are] a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NRSV).

When did we forget these essential truths? When did MY RIGHTS come to matter more than OUR COMMON FUTURE?

I pray that we figure out a way to recognize the divine bond that links us all and then join hands to help save one another…

… before it is too late. 

Abundant blessings;

10
Aug
20

Like a bridge…

Simon and GarfunkelWhen you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all,
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a song that never fails to stir my soul…

… Every single time I hear it.

The lyrics are an eloquent testimony to sacrificial human compassion. The melody journeys from tender salve to triumphant orchestral climax, all in the span of four minutes.

It is the closest thing to a secular gospel song that we have in the American catalog.

Paul Simon wrote this anthem in the spring of 1969. For those old enough to remember, this was a time when the waters of this country were terribly troubled. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated the previous year. Racial unrest was boiling over in several large American cities. The endless quagmire of the Vietnam War raged on.

It was a time when we were in desperate need of a bridge over those troubled waters…

… sort of like we are today.

In looking back 51 years to the creation of this song, I find it fascinating that despite the fact that neither Paul Simon nor Art Garfunkel were professing Christians at the time, their remedy for our national maelstrom was – essentially – the cross of Christ.

I mean, how else would you translate the lyric, “I will lay me down” other than as an offer to give up one’s own life for the sake of others? Didn’t Jesus lay himself down so that you and I and everyone who calls on his name might live?

As a testament to its universal appeal, this song has been translated into many languages and has been covered by hundreds of artists, including Johnny Cash, Annie Lennox and Bonnie Tyler. It received its most recent revival by Jennifer Hudson as a tribute to the life and work of civil-rights pioneer, John Lewis… a man who laid his own body down for the sake of others on Selma’s Edmund Pettis Bridge in 1963.

Self-sacrificial love seems like a quaint, historical anachronism here in 2020 America. We are elbow-deep in the culture of selfies, “look out for #1,” “my way or the highway,” and “me first.” In this context, the idea of sublimating my needs to yours seems at best, old-fashioned, and at worst, just plain goofy.

And yet, that very self-sacrificial love is the force that created the universe. It is the force that divided history into “B.C.” and “A.D.” It is the force that rolled an impossible stone away from a tomb and raised a dead man to life.

It is the force that redeemed my life.

It is also the force – the ONLY force, I might add – capable of calming the troubled waters that surround us today.

I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

 

Abundant blessings;

18
Jul
20

“We’re All In This Together!”

Homeless latinosYes, we are.

But in lots of ways, no, we absolutely are not.

This morning on NPR I heard the story of Daniel Garcia of Houston, Texas. (https://www.npr.org/2020/07/18/892593769/texas-man-on-what-its-like-being-evicted-during-the-covid-19-pandemic).

And it broke me.

Garcia is 46 years old. He was laid off from his job repossessing cars in April. Because Daniel’s wife is confined to a wheelchair, he is the sole breadwinner for his household. The Garcias also have a six-year-old son.

As I listened to his story, I found that Daniel also faces another obstacle in his effort to find a new job. He has a criminal record.

Two weeks ago, the Garcias were evicted from their apartment because they could not pay their rent. The housing court judge told Daniel he could appeal the decision, but that he would have to put up one full month’s rent first.

And so, Daniel, his wife and son packed their worldly belongings into a U-Haul and moved out. They were able to afford a few nights at a low-budget motel, but are now living in the back of their U-Haul, wondering what to do next.

My breaking point came when Daniel choked up on air and said, “I feel like I have failed my family.”

Yes, this pandemic has forced some unwanted changes for Joan and me. The Viking River cruise we planned to take in May from Nuremberg to Budapest was cancelled. We were not able to fly to Seattle this month to visit my siblings and 96-year-old stepmother. We have not been able to go to movies, see concerts, or watch live sporting events on television since early March. For a while, we had to use the order online, drive-up pickup service for grocery shopping.

Boo hoo! Poor us.

We still have our house and our cars. We still have food in our fridge. We still have our health. Since we are both retired, our employment status has not been affected by the virus at all. In fact, we both decided that had we each still been working at our previous jobs when the pandemic struck, we would probably have been able to continue working.

The presence of this virus on every continent, in every country, in every state, and in every community on earth gives this moment its shared and universal flavor. In reality, though, there is a wide, wide variance in how the virus is affecting people.

But what if…

… what if this moment helped us realize the vulnerability we share as human beings?

… what if we figured out how to use this moment to rekindle our compassion toward our neighbors?

… what if this moment helped us appreciate anew the quantum advances in the delivery of health care since the last pandemic a century ago?

… what if this moment led us all to a new kind of humility in the face of mystery of Creation?

… what if the “haves” suddenly realized that the “have nots” are actually their brothers and sisters?

… what if the existential anxiety of this moment caused us all to search for a deeper, more timeless, more unshakable narrative about the nature of the universe?

… what if this moment helped us realize that love can be just as communicable as this virus?

What if?

If any of that happened, my friend, we would ALL truly be in this together.

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Jun
20

To Callous, or Not to Callous

My guitarsBlogosphere, meet my guitars. The Martin Dreadnought acoustic is the one on the left and the Fender American Stratocaster (with double humbucker pickup) is the one on the right.

Guitars, meet the blogosphere.

I love these instruments and miss them fiercely whenever Joan and I travel.

Lately I have found that coming up here in the evening and playing them is a great tonic for my soul.

I have been playing for a few years now, but don’t really consider myself a guitarist. I’m just a guy who fools around on the guitar now and then. In case you are curious, there are two foolproof ways you can tell that that I am not a real guitarist:

  • First, I have not named my guitars.
  • Second, I only have two of them.

(It suddenly occurs to me there is a third, foolproof way to verify my “non-guitarist” status: listen to me play.)

Most of the time, I play in order to calm and entertain myself. Sometimes I sit down and try to learn a new song to add to my repertoire. Sometimes I just come to work on simple scales and finger exercises.

Since I am no longer taking weekly lessons or playing in a jam band or the church’s praise band, there is not a regular, external motivation to keep at it.

No motivation, that is, except for the maintenance of my callouses.

Anyone who plays guitar with regularity will attest to the importance of healthy callouses on the fingertips of the fretting hand. Callouses are the toughened areas of skin that keep the steel wires of the guitar string from cutting into you and making you bleed all over the lovely woodwork. If you don’t play with some level of frequency, your callouses will get soft. Playing will become painful.

In that sense, you could say that playing the guitar is the exact opposite of engaging in the disciplines of the Christian spiritual life.

In the world of the guitar, the discipline and regularity of practice helps BUILD UP and harden your fingertips. It prevents your playing and practice from being painful.

The aim of the spiritual disciplines, on the other hand, is to SOFTEN us… to make us more OPEN and VULNERABLiE to the world around us… to EXPOSE us to the “still, small voice” of God that Elijah heard, or to make us more susceptible to the pain and heartbreak of a neighbor who isn’t necessarily part of our “tribe.”

The goal, in other words, of all the Christian study and prayer and fasting and worship we do should be to heighten our compassion (from the Latin, com passio, “to feel with.”).

When Jesus blessed the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) during his Sermon on the Mount, he was talking about exactly these people: the people for whom the callouses around their hearts have worn away and softened.

The culture instructs us to “toughen up” and blast our way through the pain and tragedy and heartbreak of the world around us. “Take charge!” is the battle cry. “Grow thick callouses!”

But a mere two verses later (in Matt. 5:5) Jesus tells us who will REALLY inherit the earth.

Maybe we should listen to him!

12
Jun
20

I Can’t Know

Grieving peopleBy my not-totally-rigorous estimate, I have officiated at close to 100 funerals during my career as a pastor. This total was boosted significantly by one memorable week in 2014 when there were three.

Every one of these formal church services was preceded by many hours sitting with and consoling grieving family members. In some of those situations, I was also privileged to spend time with the person as they slowly died.

I was taught this in seminary, but also learned by direct experience that there are things you say and things you DON’T say to people when someone close to them dies. And right at the very top of that “DON’T” list is the phrase, “I know exactly what you are going through.

Because you don’t.

Because you can’t.

Even if your father died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79 after undergoing numerous surgeries and chemo therapies and you are talking to the son of a person whose father just died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79 after undergoing numerous surgeries and chemo therapies, you still don’t KNOW what they are going through.

One journey of pain is utterly unlike any other journey of pain. Every journey of pain is unique and unrepeatable.

And yet, even though you stand entirely outside that person’s experience, there is still a “compassionate ally” role for you to fulfill in that journey.

First, you need to discover the role. Then you need to fulfill it.

In the wake of the horrific lynching (let’s call it what it was) of the black man named George Floyd by a group of white Minneapolis, MN police officers, a lot of pain has been brought to the surface. In most cases what we are seeing is a pain that had been bottled up for centuries that is finally exploding.

This crime provided a moment that has led to some long-overdue, national soul-searching.

In an eerie parallel of the scenes surrounding the death of a loved one, some folks are responding to the pain by releasing their own pent-up pain. Some are responding by trying to deny, dismiss, or rationalize the expressions of pain they’re witnessing. Still others are struggling to find a way to respond… knowing that this particular pain is not part of their lived experience, yet also aware that they dare not turn their backs on it.

Number me as a member of that last group.

I want to come alongside those who are now in pain. I want to minister to them. I want to do something more redemptive and more effective than clucking my tongue and saying, “Ain’t it a shame.” I want to figure out a way to somehow engage in the struggle without making the mistake of saying, “I know exactly how you feel.”

Because I don’t.

Because I can’t.

Because I’m white.

In his letter to the church folk in Galatia, Paul told them they were called to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).

And as much a fan as I am of most of his work, I have to confess I am having a hard time getting with Paul on this one. The burden of systemic racism and oppression is not one I will ever be equipped to carry.

And yet somehow, despite my shortcomings, I know there has to be a “compassionate ally” role for me to play in this struggle.

Continuing to shine a light on it might be one option. Refusing to allow our national angst to be swallowed up by the next news cycle might help keep the dialogue going and the solutions flowing.

Educating myself about the depth and nature and duration of the pain might be another.

Standing up visibly with those who are hurting the most might be another ally role I can play.

Supporting the cause financially is certainly another.

What else?

 

I’d love to know what you think…

02
May
20

Me and Rosie and the GOM

Grumpy manFort Collins, Colorado – the place where Joan and I moved last November – is a friendly place.

And when I say friendly, I mean VERY friendly.

Actually, I have an introverted friend here who loves almost everything about Fort Collins. The one thing he doesn’t much care for is the uber-friendliness of the place. I overheard him complaining about it once, saying, “You can’t even make a simple purchase at the neighborhood convenience store without somebody asking you how your day is going and what you have planned later on! I mean COME ON! Just ring up my breath mints and let me leave in peace!”

So, it was no surprise to me today when I was out walking the dogs and was cheerfully hailed by every person we passed.

Everyone, that is, except one. The GOM, as I called him. The Grumpy Old Man.

As we passed on the sidewalk, he had his head down, his hood up (the weather was a little on the chilly side), and he was scowling down toward the ground. I know he was aware of my approach because as I moved toward him, I was doing my best to try and keep two rather frisky, 40-pound Wheaten Terriers somewhat in check.

I glanced over in his direction and said, “Hi!” but instead of a wave, a “Hello,” or even momentary eye contact, the guy just trudged past, continuing to stare down at the sidewalk.

“Hmmm,” I muttered to myself. “I wonder what HIS problem is. Why couldn’t he even be bothered to look up for a second and at least wave?”

I felt rebuffed.

I must have actually given voice to my thoughts, because no sooner had I finished that question than Rosie – the female and by far the more intuitive of the two dogs – spoke up.

“Maybe this isn’t about you, Russell,” she said.

“Oh?” I replied, deftly hiding my astonishment at Rosie’s keen insight.

“Did you ever stop to consider that he just might be carrying a really heavy burden right now?” she asked. “I don’t know… maybe someone close to him like his wife just tested positive for COVID-19. Maybe he just heard some bad news about one of his grandchildren. Maybe he is running out of money and doesn’t know how he will provide for himself and his family over the next month.

And then, pausing right there in the middle of the sidewalk so that I would be forced to turn and look her in the eye, she pointedly asked, “Did you ever think of any of those possibilities? Hmmmm?”

Wow. I had to admit that I hadn’t.

I was – just as Rosie had suggested – so busy making the moment all about me and my momentary pique that I hadn’t bothered to consider what might be going on from GOM’s point of view.

Rosie’s abrupt reality check made me stop and realize; every person we encounter – whether waiting in line at the grocery store, driving on the highway, or walking in the park – is smack dab in the middle of a rich and complex story. It might be a story of heartbreak and anguish, a story of longing and estrangement, a story of joy and triumph, or just a story of dry, flavorless tedium.

It is a story made up of intricate details, colorful characters, and unexpected plot twists. And it is likely a story just as interesting as my own.

And here’s the real kicker: Thanks to Rosie’s prompt, I realized that I don’t have to know all the deep details of your story in order to be compassionate toward you. I just need to assume that you’ve got something going on; something that vexes or challenges or delights you.

We can all take great comfort in knowing there is someone who DOES know every teeny, minute detail of our story and still loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Jesus put it this way: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So, do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NRSV).

Next time we are out on our walk, I’m going to try my best to heed Rosie’s advice.

She is pretty astute for someone who regularly sniffs other dogs’ butts.

02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!




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