I arrived at the hospital parking lot later than I had hoped to get there. The situation was critical, I knew, indeed, it was life-threatening. I had been on the phone with this couple while en route. The woman predicted that I would get there in time. We had prayed then while on the phone.
Jesus gave me a song to share with the woman as she lay in that bed when I reached the room. I was in plenty of time. I played the chorus of the song. As she listened, tears streamed down her face. It ministered as I sensed it might. But something I had not expected ministered so much more.
Loss and pain were in that room.
So much loss. So much pain. Too much. She said, “You know when you wrote asking if you could be here with us, it was such an answer to a need. I couldn’t have asked for you to come, but that you offered, that you came…” her voice trailed off swallowed by emotion. Then she continued, “No one has ever been with us any of the times we have faced surgeries.” I was floored.
This couple had been through some major surgeries and losses: three brain surgeries for her, the suicide of a best friend, the death of a cousin, a critical birth of one of their children, and the reason for us being there that day. On top of this, they were estranged from parents, because this couple believed in Jesus. So, in all the crises and surgeries they had faced, no family member had come. No one from their church communities had demonstrated care. One of their children had arrived on an emergency basis. This woman phoned her mom and begged her to come be with her, but her mom refused to come be with her daughter as she was giving birth to her granddaughter. That’s the level of rejection they had felt.
As this woman shared this, she teared up. “That you came…” she again said.
Literally what meant the most was this: I had shown up.
To me, it was a no-brainer. It was a life and death situation. These were precious people in the middle of immense hurt. They are not members of the congregation I pastor. They are people in the community who attend multiple congregations, but we have had the opportunity to connect deeply. But her response clearly told me, I was in the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons.
They shared their experiences of the lack of support. We talked more about the way those experiences had created narratives in their hearts about “those people” and about people in general.
Later during lunch, I asked the man if he could share more about how he had communicated with me about coming to the hospital. He had never said, “We would really like you to be there,” or “We need you there.” Instead, he had said, “Whatever you want.” I couldn’t tell if it would be a blessing for them or was a need for them, or not. But sensed this was a heavenly assignment. So, I went.
Asking him about this style of communication, he teared up as he talked about the multiple times they’d been disappointed. “It is safer not to expect, not to ask,” he choked out while trying to eat his salad.
Safer not to ask and be disappointed. As he spoke and tears brimmed his eyes, filled with pain, I so understood. It is so hard to travel with pain. It is so tough to have these places of memory and hurt that have become reopened wounds filled with bitterness.
“What might it be like to forgive these many people who have failed you?” I asked.
He said he thought he had forgiven, really.
We talked about pain and about how pain shows us so much about where our hearts really are. I spoke briefly with him about forgiveness, as much as he could here.
But to explain to you reading this today:
The first step in forgiveness is to totally release others from our harsh judgments because of the work and reality of Jesus. “Lord I forgive …. because they did … and refuse to hold them in my harsh judgment.” (you can add anything to that, but that’s the basics). The second step is to tell Jesus just how bad you hurt because of what they had said/done to you. This is honest emotion time– get the emotions out. The psalmists were good at this. And the third step is to not rehearse what they did, time and again. That’s the “keeping no record of wrongs” part.
The pain was just so raw still for this guy. I gave him some tools and we walked into the surgery waiting area. As we did so, I started. There on this empty blue vinyl chair in this waiting area full of people was a black, loaded handgun.
It was such a strange sight, so out of place in that area of people waiting to hear that others were healed, saved, well. And stranger yet than seeing it there, no one else in the waiting room had yet noticed it sitting there. I said to this brother, “Um, that’s a gun, isn’t it?” He looked over to where I pointed and said, “Man, it is.”
I went to the receptionist and said, “Someone has left their gun on a chair there.” Her face blanched. I got a napkin from her and my friend gently picked it up and handed it to her. She took it, put it into a drawer and called security.
That gun on a chair, I realize was just somehow dropped by someone, perhaps fell from their pocket? I totally wondered why anyone thought a gun was needed in a hospital in the first place, and unholstered, second!
But beyond it, as we have been too frequently reminded, guns in the wrong hands, used by the wrong hearts create so much unnecessary pain. That gun was a picture for me of the pain we cause others. For this man, it was not because some actual weapon was wielded against him, but because of the power of words and actions. It is written that “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21). Don’t we know that that is true? As he and I shared that “deadly power” was evident.
Two weeks ago, I was talking with someone else who was carrying so much pain that her body hurt. The body is so much more honest than our mouths often are. It tells the truth. We had spoken about forgiveness and she had said, “I know, I must, Pastor Brian. I know I must. It’s just so hard.” With her, I could joke and say, “Well, you have to decide, for Jesus didn’t give the option of not forgiving. It’s a command, not a suggestion. Just move their hunk of meat over to God’s side of that meat locker. Let him have it.” The meat on a hook image is a picture of that wrong against us. Forgiveness is to move it.
Divorce. Sexual abuse. Abandonment. Rejection. Loss. Pain. Last night my daughter Grace and I were talking about what she has observed seems to be an “ocean of pain” evident in so many other people’s lives.
She is a counselor under the title of “hair stylist,” and hears it all.
An ocean of pain — seemed apropos. The bottom line to all this pain, the answer, begins simply when we show up to others. That’s where the best help occurs. Of course, those in the ocean need to walk through the pain, to find healing for themselves. But any healing begins when someone else shows up. That’s what made the difference for this first couple, I mentioned, what meant more than any word I could have spoken, or did speak, was simply that I had shown up.
Recently in our church, we have been holding onto that idea, which we got from a book by Elaine Heath, inviting people to:
Listen to the Holy Spirit.
Leave the results to God”
(check out: God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church, Upper Room Books, c. 2016, p 76, ubp.).
Perhaps showing up will be like a boat in that ocean of pain to some, and to others, you showing up may be an island in the middle of their experience, granting them firm soil to stand on, and to still others that fact you showed up might be a bridge out of the pain altogether into a new experience of life. Again, friends, show up.