Modern Pilgrim #32- Pilgrim doesn’t realize that all the fear she feels about her journey is coming out of her in the form of impatience, complaining and an unpleasant tone of voice. When the Good Shepherd privately corrects her, she is ashamed of how she’s behaved. Every pilgrim in the group is carrying a heavy burden, not just her. She’s the only one who’s been snarky about it.
How do you treat your family and close friends when you’re slugging through a tough time? Do you find yourself thin-skinned, impatient, sharp-toned? Withdrawn and uncommunicative? Strident and harsh? You could check all those boxes and more for me, at various times of grief and trial. I suspect some of you might check some boxes, even today.
This morning I texted with a close friend going through a time of grief. They asked me to pray for them, specifically that God help them be more gracious with their family. “My hurt is coming out sideways,” they said. I grabbed onto that phrase immediately because I’ve felt the same thing over the past week. As I write this, my Dad is experiencing his end of life journey in hospice. We discovered that heart issues troubled him in this last year, for the first time. Over Labor Day weekend we learned his condition was far more advanced than his own cardiologist realized. At his advanced age, corrective surgeries are off the table. He requested that we bring him home where all his family and friends could visit him freely, and he could be surrounded by all things familiar and loved.
I’m saying good-bye to my Dad sooner than expected. I don’t want him to go. And my hurt is coming out sideways. Curt tones. Impatience. Quickness to anger. The pain in my heart is such a loud throbbing in my head, I didn’t notice my lack of grace for my family until my friend texted that phrase this morning.
During my quiet time, shortly after, God pointed out the lowlights of my behavior this last week. I’m going to need more grace. More of Jesus. More of his Word. I read several passages in the gospels that describe Christ’s behavior during his last days on earth. He knew the torture, death and betrayal that awaited him. Yet, Jesus spent his last days, even his last breaths, concerning himself with others.
In Matthew 26, he warns the disciples that he’ll be crucified in two days. Hours later, in a breathtaking demonstration of selflessness, he leaves that conversation to attend a dinner at the house of Simon the Leper. Just to be with people and talk with them. As if it was an ordinary day, not two days before his death. There, Lazarus’ sister, Mary, anoints Jesus’ head with expensive oil. When the disciples start to scold, he defends her.
In Luke 22, as he was being arrested, Jesus heals the ear of a servant of the high priest, after Peter cuts it off in anger.
In John 19, barely able to breathe, in astounding agony, he makes certain that his mother will be properly cared for by the disciple, John.
In Luke 23, moments before death, he assures a repentant thief, hanging on a cross next to his, that they will be together in paradise that day.
Jesus demonstrated the faith and grace-filled way to travel through trials without ending with regrets and apologies afterwards. He poured himself out for others to the very last moments.
Mature faith trusts God to supply all needs, physical, emotional, and spiritual, regardless of the trial or challenge. On that foundation of trust, it knows it will be well resourced and able to care for the needs of others in pain.
Small faith looks out for itself rather exclusively. It makes excuses for bad behavior during hard times. Since it lacks a deep foundation, it wobbles and shakes when life gets sad and hard, questioning God’s character and His Word, ignoring the pains of others.
When my Dad first entered hospice, I behaved more like a Weeble than a warrior. I’m glad God brought me up short through a simple sentence from a friend. People around me need stability, grace, and kindness.
A short aside for you overzealous, helper personality types out there, especially Enneagram Two’s, the ones who neglect their own needs trying to be a hero for everyone else. Stop it. This is not sustainable. Eventually your mind, body and spirit will start to break down. You will become resentful that no one else seems to be doing as much as you are. Angry because people don’t notice all you do and take time to thank you. This is not a balanced, Christ-like approach to living with a servant’s heart.
Jesus set a pattern of balance between time alone with God, time with close friends doing the stuff of life and pouring himself out in teaching and healing to the masses. When we get out of balance with either selfishness or selflessness, we weeble, wobble and eventually fall. Just at the time when people need us to stand up and be strong alongside them, we’re face down.
Earthly life can be capricious and cruel. Without a deep, muscular faith, we can add more pain to difficult circumstances. Beefing up your faith during a hard time means:
You don’t waste time wondering why this awful thing has happened to you. Horrific things happened to Jesus and will fall on us, in this life. Remember, Jesus told us, in John 16:33, we’d encounter trouble, but that he has overcome it.
You hunker down with God and find you some serious verses to memorize and hide in your heart, pertinent to your situation.
You pray with open heart and open hands not demanding your way with God but getting yourself in agreement with His Word and his purposes. This will take some listening time which you can’t race through.
You trust God to give you peace you can’t manufacture yourself, strength you can’t muster up on your own and everything else you need for your trial.
You look around you to see who needs a touch of grace, a word of encouragement, an act of service and kindness.
You keep your hand on the plow (Luke 9:62) and keep moving through your field of troubles with your eyes fixed on Jesus and your heart turned towards others.
If Jesus could concern himself with other’s pain during his own, do you believe he will enable us to do the same? Who do you know who needs a touch from Jesus, through you today?