So my pastor shared a great sermon this past Sunday. It's not on the website yet, but when it is, look for 11-23-08 here. I very rarely recommend sermons unless I feel they are authentic, full of truth, and useful - and this sermon met all three criteria for me.
The title of the talk was "Loving Your Parents", and I anticipated it with a fair amount of trepidation. I do love and respect my parents for everything they did for me - that's not it. But when I hear that a sermon is going to be about relationships, my first question is whether or not the presenter is going to be real about life. I am a child of divorce, and I know more people who experienced divorce or some other tragedy in their growing up years than I do those who did not. So, let's just get down to the nitty gritty, you know? But no worries here. After some introductory material on the Biblical ideal of family relationships, he launched into a time of openness and vulnerability that I rarely see in the pulpit - sharing examples from his own life when necessary, but undergirding the whole time with honesty and frankness. I could tell several people were touched. And I just want to say, keep it coming! People want us to be vulnerable and real, because it helps them be vulnerable and real. In my estimation, this is a major aspect of servant-leadership - humbling oneself (in regards to emotional, or financial, or spiritual matters, or decision-making, et al) so that others will feel more comfortable following suit.
We had our home group right after church, and I opened by talking about the sermon. Even within our group, of the ten people there, only two were going to have Thanksgiving with a family who had not experienced some tragedy (divorce, death, unhealthy relationship patterns, or whatever else). So what do we say to this?
Certainly there are some who would say that people these days complain more. That we should just keep family matters private. While there is something to be said for decorum and respecting the integrity of intimate relationships, I believe this idea as a social more can discourage hurting people from reaching out. Indeed, it can discourage sick people from finding the help they need to get well. I am not interested in complaining for its own sake, but strive to push myself and those around me to answer a simple question in regards to familial difficulties -- What is God trying to say to me? (Not that He originated the difficulties, but that He is always with us and never leaves us and therefore has something to say in the midst of the difficulty.)
Sometimes just asking the question is enough. Sometimes just reminding myself of His presence is enough to comfort me and check my emotions. But more often, I ask that question, and then I get an answer.
"I put this person in your life for a reason. Don't waste it."
"I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth."
"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."
I hate that last one. Just so you know. It gets me every time.
But what do we do with really tragic stuff? What do we do with our abusers? What do we do with parents who will never be satisfied? What do we do when we really have actually screwed up and they don't have much to be proud of? Or when they really screw up and we're pissed?
We talk. We find that person if possible, or someone trustworthy if not possible, and talk about it. We humble ourselves in openness and frankness so that the other person has the opportunity to follow suit. I had a sweet conversation last night during which I was wonderfully reminded how much healing takes place just when we talk about something. No huge revelations. No advice sought or offered. Just talking and relating and sharing life. We could all use more of this.
And He will restore us. The longing for complete intimacy and complete adventure is stamped on every person's soul, and the Bible tells us that we will achieve these completely in eternity with Jesus. Indeed, we will always feel the ache until the day we meet with Him. But I am convinced that He does not want us to stagnate while we are waiting for that moment. "Let your Kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This is our prayer. And this is our job. But it is a sweet and satisfying work.
How many have been required to relinquish an unholy relationship, only to have that relationship restored in a new and life-giving context?
How many have endured excruciating excavation of past tragedies, only to realize that these tragedies somehow do not hold the same power or menace over us that they once did?
How many have been able to empathize with some other hurting soul, and have thus realized the truth of Joseph's life? "What you intended for evil, the Lord intended for good and the saving of many souls." (Gen. 50:20)
And it is for this that I give thanks. That He pulled me out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock. That He has restored relationship and passion and purpose. That He is the God who heals me.
You have given me more than I could ever have wanted...You alone are good.