Wednesday, January 29, 2020

C is for Comfort

This seemed like a good idea at the time, way back in December when I was looking ahead to a church work schedule that would accommodate my goal to have the book about my father done in six months, but let me tell you, the Alphabet of Faith is really working my brain.

Here's my idea: There are 26 letters in the alphabet. There are 26 Sundays between January 5 and June 28. Ta da! Six months of work guaranteed (with a three Sundays off).
So far, out of four Sunday, I've presented two letters: A and D. Snow kiboshed the other two (and now it looks like a huge snowstorm is on its way for this Sunday!). All I can say is the amount of thinking required with this worship plan means I'm earning my pay cheques whether I present on Sunday or not.

I decided I would post a condensed version of my Sunday message each week on my Facebook author page, but I realized my friend Shelagh, oft-mentioned here and who is mentioned in the message about Comfort, is not on Facebook so she doesn't get to read these messages. It's a shame for her not to experience more of my brilliance.

This is a long-winded way of saying I'm going to post my favourite messages here, 1) for Shelagh to read and 2) so that not every post is a Life Sucks post. They are not a typical "field notes" post but I do a lot of tromping through the field as I try to figure out what I'm going to say, and to clear my overworked brain at the end of the day.

The photo is of Shelagh and I at our church in Cobourg, Ontario, taken in May 2017 when I did a sermon the day after my Ontario book launch of Field Notes.

C is for Comfort: A condensed version of my Alphabet of Faith message for January 19.

In the summer of 2006, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer.
It was most unwelcome, as most diagnoses are, but especially since we were six months into my father’s residency in the dementia unit at a nursing home, and our days revolved around taking care of him.

The first step of her treatment was surgery to remove the offending tumour in her colon. It happened on the Friday before the long weekend of July, and I was scheduled to read the scripture at church that Sunday. I went ahead with it, and beforehand, I said to my friend Shelagh, Wait till you hear it! It’s the perfect scripture for me to read.

I don’t remember now what it was in that scripture I was referring to, that I knew Shelagh would appreciate – because something completely different tripped me up during my reading.
And I mean, tripped me up.

Three days after my mother had surgery to remove a cancerous polyp, I had to read the words, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Now, you all know that I can get choked up with some of the things I say, but I have never sobbed my way through a message or prayer! But that’s what I did that Sunday in July 2006– as soon as my brain saw that line and connected it with what was going on in my life, and with my mother, I started to cry.
And I had to keep reading to verse 43. I didn’t know what else to do – I’m sure no one else did either! No one came to rescue me so I kept going.

Later, during the prayers of the people, when a friend of my mother’s called out her name, a ripple of awareness passed through the congregation.

And afterwards, people came up to me and thanked me for bringing such raw and honest emotion to the reading.
I was mortified – Shelagh was laughing – and people were thanking me.

We forget that church is, and should be, a place where we can ‘let go and let God’.
Where we can get emotional, where we can open our minds and our hearts, and express whatever raw and honest emotions come to us.

We call this a sanctuary.
A place of refuge, of safety, of solace.
This is a place of COMFORT. A place where we come to worship God, sure, but where we come to find God in the midst of our lives – in the midst of our joys – but more importantly, in the midst of our sorrows and sufferings, our heartache and grief.
In the midst of our letting go.

We come here to find COMFORT – when we are letting go of burden we carry: the guilt, the shame, the regret – when we are letting go of the negative emotions we cling to: anger and resentment and bitterness – when we are letting go of love, through the end of a relationship because of distance, or divorce, or death.

We come here to find COMFORT – because this is supposed to be our COMMUNITY of faith, our faith family – where we are CONNECTED to each other based on our beliefs and values, on our history and friendships – based on what we have in common through Jesus: the assurance of love, acceptance, welcome.

Yet church is often the last place we come when we are suffering, when we are waiting, when we are lost and lonely, when we are afraid, when we are mourning…because we don’t want to get upset. We don’t want to upset others. We don’t want to make a fool of ourselves.

Let me tell you, as someone who bawled through an entire scripture reading, I’m totally over worrying about making a fool of myself by showing raw and honest emotion in the pulpit.

It’s okay to cry through a hymn. It’s okay to cry during a Christmas Eve service.
Hey, most of get all teary-eyed during a baptism – so tears of joy and tears of sorrow: every kind of raw and honest emotion is welcomed and encouraged here.

But we deny ourselves that healthy release. We deny ourselves our uniquely human response. We hold in our emotions, we deny our need to cry – often by pretending to be strong and in control, or by avoiding church all together.
Thereby denying ourselves the comfort that comes from this place, and from our faith.

“I can do all things through God who strengthens me.”

And we can do all things, get through all things, endure all things through our faith friends who strengthen us.  
“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

You know how we take a moment at the start of our worship to breathe? To relax the muscles of our backs and chest and shoulders?
That’s is how I live out that verse: You carry your weariness and burdens, your worries and responsibilities in your body – so when you come here, and sit inside this sanctuary, I help you find some rest – a way to put down those burdens, set aside the worries by reminding you to find connection to holy spirit through your breath, through breathing deeply into every cell of your body.

So this is what I want to say to you, at whatever level of comfort – and need to cry – you are at:

Have faith. Have faith in yourself.
Because everything you have endured so far in life, you have survived.
Because having endured the worst thing you, you were transformed into a better, stronger, wiser version of you.
You became more you because of what you went through.

The same goes for those of you who have come feeling weary and burdened: Everything you are enduring now – you will survive. And because of what you are going through, you will be stronger, wiser, and more at peace because of it.

Everything we fear – crying, dying, hurting, suffering, waiting, wondering – becomes something we appreciate and understand once we’ve survived it, and perhaps thrived because of it.
We don’t fear what we know,
so…  Trust in your experience. Trust in your strength. Trust in your own heart’s voice to guide you.

Remember what Jesus said:

“My friend, by your faith, you are healed. Go in peace.”

by Sara Jewell

1 comment:

  1. Well, well, well, where to start? First off, those pants. Immortalized for time. Fantastic stuff. Secondly - I laughed at you? That doesn’t sound like me....but it does sound like me with you. Thirdly, this is very kind of you to share via your blog so I can see it ❤️ Lastly, it was a special service and I remember it well. I honour you by now crying openly in church. That I do so facing the congregation from the choir stall is all the more entertainment for everyone. Well shared, dear friend xoxo