Temptations. Secret sins. Marriage problems. Family issues. Financial crises. Devastating losses, set-backs, and reversals. Destructive and reckless decisions and the resulting consequences. Deep hurts and brokenness from the past. Anxiety and fear about the future. Confusion in the present.
Here's the reality: Difficult, awful, tragic, sinful, heart-wrenching things happen to people. Every day. Everywhere.
Some of the people I minister to have been wounded beyond anything I can imagine because of things they were exposed to and ways they've been acted upon by others.
Some of the people I minster to are trapped in destructive patterns and behaviors because of choices they've made and continue to make.
Most people I minister to are just trying to manage life, figure out what went wrong, and what can be done to make it better.
When people come to me with these and other issues I listen to their story. I cry with them. My heart often breaks for them. I offer whatever counsel I can. And I pray with them and for them.
But mostly I just listen and remain present.
I made the decision a long time ago to try and never simply spout off pious platitudes and pat, simplistic answers. Such things, while often well-intentioned, actually tend to depersonalize, minimize and diminish the very real and tragic hurt, suffering, and brokenness of people.
Pious platitudes and pat answers also fail to recognize the complexity of situations. And they conveniently prevent us from actually entering into the pain with people. Instead we remain at a safe, detached and comfortable distance, secure in our pious theologizing.
None of that is helpful in pastoral work. Or in the spiritual journey. Or in real life.
This morning I was thinking about all this and some specific situations and people that were heavy on my heart. I was thinking about people I know who've been hurt and wounded deeply. Sometimes that hurt has come by way of those who were supposed to have loved and protected them best, but didn't.
And then I came across this reflection from Catholic spiritual writer Henri Nouwen from his book Here and Now: Living in the Spirit. For me it spoke powerfully to some of things heavy on my heart. And if you are hurting, struggling, broken and trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered life, may it encourage you and help you to find healing and hope in the redemptive love of God through Jesus Christ.
Here is what Nouwen says:
We humans suffer a lot. Much, if not most, of our deep suffering comes from our relationships with those who love us. I am constantly aware that my deep agony and anguish come, not from the terrible events I read about in the newspapers or see on television, but from the relationships with the people with whom I share my daily life. The men and women who love me and are very close to me are also the ones that wound me. As we grow older, we often discover that we were not always loved well. Those who loved us often used us too. Those who cared for us were also envious at times. Those who gave us much, at times asked much in return. Those who protected us also wanted to possess us at critical moments. Often we feel the need to sort out how and why we are wounded and frequently we come to the frightening discovery that the love we received was not as pure and simple as we had thought.I love that last part: "Have the courage to trust that you won't fall into an abyss of nothingness but into the safe embrace of a God whose love will heal all wounds." It reminds me of the Apostle Paul's assertion in Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV):
It is important to sort these things out, especially when we feel paralyzed by fears, anxieties, and dark urges that we do not understand.
But understanding our wounds is not enough. Finally we must find the freedom to step over our wounds and the courage to forgive those who have wounded us. The real danger is to get stuck in anger and resentment. Then we start living as the "wounded" one," always complaining that life isn't "fair."
Jesus came to save us from these self-destructive complaints. He says: "Let go of your complaints, forgive those who loved you poorly, step over your feelings of being rejected, and have the courage to trust that you won't fall into an abyss of nothingness but into the safe embrace of a God whose love will heal all wounds" (56-58).
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That's no pious platitude. That's an incredible promise about the redemptive love of God. No matter what we've done or what's been done to us, God loves us and nothing can separate us from his love.
May you be overwhelmed by that redemptive love today and every day.