Readings for today: Genesis 40:1-23, Psalm 51, 1 Corinthians 3:16-23, Mark 2:13-22
"The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" Psalm 51:17
When I first came to seminary, one of the first things we had to do was share our faith journeys with each other. As juniors (first years), we participated in a class entitled Introduction to the Theology and Practice of Ministry (TPM). One of the assignments we did was called the "River of Life" exercise. This consisted of pairing off with a pre-determined partner to share our faith journeys following the model of a river: the twists and turns and bends marked significant points in those journeys. After my partner spoke I realized that mine was not the only story that held pain. I felt a close connection with my partner; we had both been through some tough times, and somehow had made it through.
Last year (middler year, or second year), one of the assignments for my first homiletics (preaching) class was to talk about what compelled us to stand up there and preach about the Word of God in the first place. I gave a safe answer initially, going first so that I wouldn't have time to get too nervous (we were doing this without notes). But when my classmates began sharing their stories, I got more and more uncomfortable. They had far more profound things to say, or at least they were taking risks in what they shared with the class. As a result, I felt that I had been dishonest, or at least hadn't told the whole truth. After everyone had gone, my professor asked us how we felt about sharing. Instead of letting it slide and just waiting until class was over, I said that I was dissatisfied with what I had said, upset that I hadn't been willing to be as open with my classmates. The professor asked if I wanted to try it again. Stupidly, I said yes. So, I got up in front of the room and spoke again. I'm not sure exactly what I ended up saying, but I know it resulted in me sobbing and needing several tissues; it seems I had a lot to say, after all. I'm not sure what my classmates thought about my verbal vomiting, but I felt much better after it was over. I hadn't realized how much pain I was carrying, how broken I felt.
This year, my senior year, I learned something about a person whom I hadn't really taken the time to get to know. Learning of the pain that this person had been carrying around made me see them in a different light.
Each year, the people I have met who have shared their stories with me have talked of difficult times, of being broken. The one thing that has been in common in all of these cases is that in the midst of the pain, they felt God's love surrounding them. It was only after they had been through these painful experiences that their relationship with God had strengthened. Maybe it's because when we are at our very lowest, we realize that God (through Christ) is the only one who truly knows what it's like to feel abandoned, to feel alone. It really is amazing that God loves us so much that God was willing to experience all of the emotions, all of the pain and suffering of humanity, followed by a horrible death, in order to reconcile us to God. What wondrous love is this?
Recently, several of my friends have had illnesses and deaths within their families. Others are going through emotionally rough times. I wish I could be there to give every one of them a hug, wish I could help take some of that pain away. There is so much brokenness in the world. So much pain, hunger, desolation. I don't have an answer for all of that. I can't make any of it better, not really. But I can tell you that I truly believe with everything I am that God really is with us through it all.