Working in health care for almost thirty years now, the idea of physical healing is nothing abstract or new. There are some who search and commit to healing at any cost: the best specialists, the most rigorous testing, intentional planning, and conscientious living. Others ignore warning signs, isolate, deny their needs and symptoms, and continue to experience a slow steady decline and loss of vitality. But there is so much more to balanced health and wellness than stable vital signs, a good report on an annual exam, and routine scheduled procedures. Obtaining and maintaining good physical health involves a day by day, one foot in front of the other journey. What about good emotional, mental, and spiritual health? Are they any less important or demand less intentional thought and attention? Are there short cuts, quick fixes, and magic elixirs and oils to soothe a troubled mind, bind a broken heart, or set a spirit free?
So…what do the title Together Is Better and the term heal have in common?
I recently found myself in the midst of a small circle of women exploring and recounting stories, struggles, truths, and lies learned in the murky depths of life, loss, hurt, and healing. Anytime a tightly woven circle of believing women gather to go deeper into matters of the heart, not only is there coffee; invariably there are tears, prayer, hugs, words of encouragement, and usually snacks. 🙂 Where two or more are gathered, there is great potential for depth, accountability, searching, support, confrontation, and sometimes conflict. But there is also life and love and lessons that are not learned in text books, television, or self-help videos. Somewhere in the midst of the searching and sharing, words and images from a book I had read years earlier found their way into the conversation.
That’s why you’re here…I want to heal the wound that has grown inside of you, and between us…there’s no easy answer that will take your pain away…life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship.
The Shack, by William Paul Young, was released to both raving accolades and scalding controversy. Different, edgy, imaginative.Yes, it’s fiction, but as God, yes God, met with and spoke those tender words to the struggling, hurting soul in the story, I was reminded of a phrase that my pastors frequently quote: Together is better. I attend a contemporary church that emphasizes the importance of small group ministry. I suppose it’s a phrase that I’ve heard at least a thousand times: a catch phrase, a cliche, a buzzword, good advice? More than that, it’s a direction, a building block, and a ministry. People matter. Words matter.They have meaning and consequence. Sometimes a few black and white words on a page can breathe the hope, healing, and breath of God to a hungry, hurting, searching people.
I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing…
Penned in the introduction to the book, those simple words explain much of life, love, loss, and restoration. They also foreshadow and frame the impending story: not only the fictional story in The Shack, but parts of our own stories as well. Too often people are wounded and subsequently withdraw into solitary shells and lonely retreats; or they build protective barriers that may quickly become fortresses with thick impenetrable walls… more like prisons, that eventually harden their paths, their choices, and ultimately their hearts.
People are imperfect. They fail. They’re messy, inconvenient, and burdensome. Sometimes they unintentionally neglect, wound, scar. Other times it’s not so unintentional. Sometimes it’s deliberate, calculated, evil, and unrepentant. There is no sorry, forgive me, or I waswrong. In the book, Mack experiences a Great Sadness that is totally out of his control. He did nothing to put himself in the position of helplessness and wounding. Someone else’s hurtful thoughts, ruthless actions, and destructive sin choices thrust him into the depths of unrelenting pain and anguish. Loss and life change. In the pain, he recoiled reflexively, as if scorched by a searing flame and, in time, his scars grew thicker and colder. They created a solid exterior, tough and protective . At the same time forming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle dividing him from God and, in some ways, others. Then he had a choice. We have a choice.
Getting head issues out of the way makes the heart stuff easier to work on later…when you’re ready…I can set you free, but freedom can never be forced…you don’t even understand that freedom is an incremental process.
Freedom is an incremental process? Gradual? Progressive? Little by little? There is freedom in that alone! It’s permission to relax: to stop the striving, comparison, judgment, and thewhys: Why can’t I get over it? Why can’t I be like __? Why can’t I just __? In an era of quick fixes, easy answers, and temporary solutions, it’s easy to walk in discouragement and self- condemnation when easy or sudden healing and transformation don’t happen. Guilty. I’m guilty of great, speedy expectations: A drive thru breakthrough rather than three steps forward and two steps back. Cliches,but real struggles when discouragement threatens to separate us from God or others, when we feel like we will never get over it, we’re all alone, or just not good or strong enough. Maybe “since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.” Maybe together really is better.
That’s just a tiny glimpse into the story. Just enough to raise questions and start conversations, but maybe that’s enough. Some may want to dig out their old copies of the book and re-explore; others still claim it’s heresy. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. (1 Cor 1:27)
Together is better. Yes, people can be messy; but people can also be the hands, feet, eyes, and words of Jesus to extend hope and healing in the valley of our Great Sadness, our daily struggles, or just our steady trodden paths. The term, the Great Sadness resonates to something deep within me. That’s a whole separate post, or ten. It doesn’t have to matter what The Great Sadness is in someone’s life: an event, a loss, a lack. The goal is healing: recognition, reconciliation, and restoration. As I’m finishing up here, I realize that this post isn’t deeply theological, philosophical, or even anything new. It also seems rather incomplete… Like I could write for days and there would still be many corners, avenues, and deep wells to explore. Some people write to entertain or to influence. I write to process. Still processing.
I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.
The evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through the overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.
The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.
His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter has run away. Her son is in jail. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s is so much worse. Hospice has been called in.Third DUI. Arrested for heroin. Suicide. It’s almost Christmas.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matt 11:28
I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back. But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36
What does it look like to offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting, and comfort for the grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?
From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2
It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats. I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.
But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in a world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope? Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.
2. a connecting,transitional,orintermediaterouteorphasebetweentwo adjacentelements,activities,conditions,orthelike
3. tomake(away) by a bridge
What a strange thought to come to mind on this Thankful Thursday: I’m thankful for bridges. The prompt? This headline:
Thousands form ‘Bridge to Peace’ Unity Chain to honor church shooting victims
The Ravenel bridge is one of many sites that has been on our vacation “to see” list since we initially considered a Summer trip to Charleston. We’ve contemplated and planned and anticipated the trip for months, excited to study the wonderful architecture, stroll the historic streets, visit the beautiful gardens, bask on the warm beaches, and tour the many historic homes, churches, and Civil War sites. When news of the tragic church shooting exploded all over the media, there were so many analytical and emotional responses expressed nationwide: hurt, disbelief, anger, sadness, blame, hatred. It was difficult to fathom how widespread the ripple effect of the pain caused by this tragic loss of life would be. It was a senseless loss of brothers and sisters who had been walking in faith, worshiping, and praying…believers who had been welcoming and vulnerable in the face of hatred and evil. Sadly and selfishly however, somewhere beneath my initial expressions of grief and outrage simmered shallow, lurking questions: What will this mean for our visit? Will there be protests in the streets? Will we be looked upon with suspicion or resentment? Will there be danger?
Then thousands of hands, hearts, and voices stood together, walked the Ravenel bridge, and stood in unity, in grief, in hope. What the enemy had intended for hate, hurt, and death transformed into love, hope, forgiveness, and life.
The betrayed and wounded painted a picture of grace and forgiveness. The hurt became the healers. In walking the bridge, they built a bridge.
In the literal sense, it would be impossible to travel our great nation without the many bridges spanning the mountains, valleys, and rivers. What a great idea: build a way across chasms, gorges, rivers, and roadways! Pretty amazing really: architectural marvels and works of art at the same time! Someone dreamed, someone crafted, and they became reality.
Sometimes bridges can seem a little scary and uncertain… reaching, stretching across the unknown. What’s on the other side? Will it hold up under the weight? What would it be like to stay in one place, routine, sedentary and not go beyond the usual, the known, the comfortable…
Maybe that’s a stretch… What about the metaphorical bridges: Spanning the gaps? Narrowing the differences? Meeting on the other side? Connecting? Making a way? What about this:
Deep water, troubled water, raging water, murky and uncertain water…A secure bridge crosses over and provides safe passage and deliverance.
So, yes, I am thankful for bridges: bridges that connect, bridges that create unity and passage, bridges that traverse the gaps that divide, destroy, or swallow life and hope and love and unity. I am thankful for people who stretch and link and hold firm to connect and bond and strengthen and unite. I am thankful that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Stood in the gap. Became a bridge: the way,
the truth, the life.
**Special thanks to April Knight, worship artist, for the beautiful sketch “Charleston Strong.” Check out her talent at http://www.scripturedoodle.com and order the print. 🙂
“Her children rise up and call her blessed…” Proverbs 31:28
“Whenever I held my newborn baby in my arms, I used to think that what I said and did to him could have an influence not only on him but on all whom he met, not only for a day or a month or a year, but for all eternity — a very challenging and exciting thought for a mother.” Rose Kennedy
Mother. What a complex picture that short two syllable word is able to paint. Both a noun and a verb, it’s a longing, a calling, a privilege, an honor, a blessing, a duty, and a lifelong walking out and responsibility. It is able to create myriad emotions in both the speaker and the hearer of the word.