I had a difficult conversation this past week, I had trouble sleeping for three nights turning it over in my head. After the third night, I finally drifted to sleep with this Psalm on my mind.
Have you ever had one of those times in your life where everything that happens to you seems deeply significant and imbued with meaning?
In the morning, I woke up early and travelled to Ellicot City, MD, with some fellow deacons from church. We went to a training session about Stephen’s ministries and learned about help others through seasons of grief. The presentation was wonderful, but what impressed me most was just the feeling of being in a room filled with over 100 people who wanted to learn how to come along side others who are hurting.
We were given a list of about 30 or so problems that people face in life. Then we listed how many people we could think of from our church facing these issues. The keeper of the prayer list at church was in my group, so he had a fairly good idea of identifiable needs. We counted over 140 for a church with 500 members. When it hit me that one quarter of the congregation is facing a big challenge in their life, it gives me great compassion for our ministers! How can they possibly meet such big a need!?!
We learned that when people are in a crisis situation, they stand at a fork in the road: one path leads to a downward spiral and the other path leads to wholeness and healing. Companionship is essential in times of crisis so that we don’t lose our way. A Christian friend comes along side a person in crisis and doesn’t leave. The purpose of the friendship is to wait with the person in a non-judgmental way and simply listen, just to be there until the situation resolves. Most of what a person goes through as they weep is personal to them, only the griever can know the pain. We were told its ok to cry along with a person in crisis: “Jesus wept.” The speaker told us that sometimes these situations create a lot of anger within the person and sometimes it gets directed at the caring friend, not to be surprised if it happens.
Getting back to my sleepless nights: One of the people in the room was a Catholic priest. A friend told me once that Catholic priests are accustomed to random people coming up to them needing to confess something, after three sleepless nights I felt the need to confess a lack of forgiveness regarding a situation in my life. It’s a little awkward for me as Presbyterian to do something like this. I just went and sat near him during a five minute break. A lady was sitting beside him sharing about the loss of her daughter. I wasn’t about to interrupt that, so I sat just prayed silently as I sat beside him, and my heart started to burn inside me. I started to feel better and decided that if he didn’t have time to talk with me it was enough to pray beside him.
But once the lady got up, he turned to me with a gentle and inquisitive glance. I said that I was have having some trouble with forgiveness. He put his hand on my shoulder and prayed as if he knew everything that I’d been through. The words were just what I needed to hear. He prayed into the start of the next presentation. And he looked at me with tremendous compassion and love and asked me to repeat after him: In the name of Jesus, I renounce anger; in the name of Jesus, I renounce unforgiveness; in the name of Jesus, I renounce resentment; in the name of Jesus, I renounce fear; and in the name of Jesus, I renounce control. And I felt a burden lifted. I felt closure to a chapter in my life.
In five minutes (plus about two!), the priest comforted a grieving mother and lifted a burden from me, but he didn’t get a stretch break. How did he do it?
I went home and slept well.
When I went to church today, our minister preached on the passage about the disciples and how they met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but didn’t recognize him. They asked: “Were not our hearts burning insides us?” I thought about the feeling I had as I sat beside the priest the day before. The pastor shared his own experiences of meeting Christ as he interacted with others. He shared how a veteran reached out to him and grabbed his hand firmly saying: “We need help” and how my minister felt Christ’s call to serve veterans with post traumatic stress disorder at that moment. He shared how we all have moments where we meet Christ in unexpected ways on the road to Emmaus.
In the afternoon, I went to Gettysburg to cheer on a friend who serves as a marshal in the Face of America bike ride from DC to Gettysburg. Over 140 veterans participate in the ride in bicycles designed for their lost limbs. I took time to appreciate both the conflict that took place in Gettysburg and also the battles the veterans have fought and continue to fight. But mostly, I felt energized and inspired by the veterans. I saw firsthand that its possible for a battlefield to be transformed to a place of camaraderie and for personal crisis to resolve into healing and wholeness.
I am grateful for caring people: ministers and priests, friends who come along side other in crisis, and a good guy who pushes wounded warriors up the big hills! Christ is alive!