Faith for the hard days

It doesn’t happen very often, but it has happened before. I woke this morning and for a brief moment I had the sensation that I was waking from a bad dream. I was slightly confused about what time and what day it is. Then I realized that I had not had a bad dream. The terrible thing that I had been thinking about wasn’t a dream. It was reality.

A brief article on the local newspaper’s web site confirmed what I already knew: “Custer County Emergency Management called off a Tuesday search for a missing man after using drones and dog teams to find him.” There aren’t any details in the article. The emergency management department will probably have a press conference and share more information later today, but I already know the information that I need to know. I had been following the story all day long and was kept informed by a family member on scene. It is not my story to share and I don’t want to go into details, but what I can say is that I’ve had this sick feeling since I received the news.

I have completed applied suicide intervention skills training. I know quite a bit about how to work with those who are contemplating suicide. I know the warning signs. I know some of the history of depression and struggle for mental health this family has witnessed. I saw and spoke to the victim a little over a week ago. But my knowledge and my training were not enough to prevent this tragedy. A man is dead before his 40th birthday. A young widow remains. Two daughters remain. Grief is washing over an entire family system and the depth of pain that they feel is overwhelming.

I know I’ll be playing the “could have,” ‘would have,” “should have” game in my mind for the next several days. None of that changes the reality. I will wake to the same reality as that family for each day going forward. And that reality is tragic.

It has been a challenging week and it is only Wednesday.

Yesterday morning I kneeled at the bedside of a woman I’ve known since she was about the age I am now. As I read a Psalm and said a prayer I looked at her hands and face. She never was a big woman, but now she seems so small. It is almost as if she is evaporating in front of us. She is receiving comfort care as she goes through a slow and quiet journey from this life to the next. Now in her 90’s she doesn’t have much family left. A loving niece attends to her and professionals provide the care she needs. I couldn’t tell what she hears or understands, but I chose familiar verses in the hope that there would be some spark of recognition in her and that the words would be comforting.

In the evening I gave a hug to a friend whose list of stressors is so long that It seems impressive that she can be out and functioning, let alone smiling and grateful, which she was. Let’s see: Her son is in the hospital with some kind of infection that they can’t get diagnosed. Her husband is filing for divorce. She has a meeting today with a surgeon about treatment for cancer. Her father died early yesterday morning. Her mother is experiencing dementia and may or may not fully understand the death of her husband. And that isn’t the complete list.

In the morning yesterday I met with a colleague and began our conversation by apologizing for not responding to his Facebook post because I couldn’t figure out how to say what I wanted to say in such a public forum. He is going through a life- and career-changing experience that is far too complex to death with in a Facebook post.

This is what I do with my life and work.

Yesterday, I listened to part of a radio interview with a colleague of mine. He was speaking of the tradition of prophetic preaching, founded in the historic Biblical prophets and speaking truth to power. This, he said, is especially needed in this time of global crisis and environmental destruction. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think that somehow I am not a prophetic preacher. I’ve never had that gift.

If I were to characterize my preaching, I guess I would have to say that I am a resurrection preacher. I am brought again and again to the truth that for our people death is not the end. Despite the stories of tragedy and loss and pain and destruction, God always has more for us. I know that the crisis my colleague is facing is not the end of his career. There will be a fresh start and new opportunities. I know that the problems that are currently overwhelming the woman are not the story of her life. I know that the woman who lies dying in a nursing home bed is only part of the story. I know that the body recovered near a hiking trail is not the end of love in the lives of those who are grieving.

Jesus told his followers, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9) He went on to tell them, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) I am not the one to carry the voice of judgment or anger to others. I am not the one to speak of justice to the halls of power. I am a pastor who is called to bear witness of the power of love. And love is stronger than death. And that means that I am called to speak that message in the face of death. I am called to speak it on the mornings when yesterday seems like a bad dream.

Today I proclaim that this is not the end. The grief, the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the sadness - these are not the final words on the condition of the human spirit. We were born to love. We live in love. We will die in love. And love never ends.

Even when the day is hard. Love never ends.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!