Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
There is a banner frame in the Reeves’ front yard that we rotate banners through during the year. Some banners promote upcoming ministry offerings while others speak a word of truth that (we hope) resonates with certain persons in the neighborhood surrounding the church.
For the past two months we have had a banner out front reading “Grieving? We can help.” And during the past two months I have shared incredibly powerful, incredibly painful, and incredibly passionate conversations with persons who have suffered immense loss.
Loss of parent. Loss of spouse. Loss of child. Loss of job. Loss of health. Loss of identity. Loss of worth.
In hearing their stories of loss I am reminded of my own losses as God’s spirit of empathy settles. I admit now as I do at the outset of each of these conversations: I have not always been through the same kind of loss you are experiencing. I won’t say that “I understand” but I will listen. I won’t always have an answer or a solution, but again, and most importantly, I will listen.
By listening I believe we come alongside those who grieve and help them make meaning – a little or a lot – of their loss. By listening I know we dispel the shame that accompanies grief – that we shouldn’t talk about it, that we should be tough and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that we should rent a uhaul and move on. No. It takes courage to say “I want to talk about this.” We affirm that courage by listening. Will it make us uncomfortable to listen? Probably – but not as much as we originally thought.
It makes me uncomfortable to think of all the people that are discouraged in their grief sharing. If you have been discouraged, I ask you to extend forgiveness to those who shamed you to silence and I encourage you to continue seeking someone to listen.
On All Saints Sunday the church collectively pauses to remember those saints – those brothers sisters fathers mothers friends – in the faith that have completed the journey of faith. At one and the same time we celebrate their new lives in Christ while also recognizing our human loss.
In worship we will read the names of the saints that have passed this year. We will light a candle and ring a bell for each. We will sing, pray, and share in communion. And then the service will conclude.
But that doesn’t mean our feelings of human loss will be resolved with the lighting of a candle, the ringing of a bell, song, prayer, and communion – although those in the midst of great loss and great grief would welcome the quick resolution.
I use this time of remembering to draw near to my personal experience of loss. I also use this time of remembering to draw near to my personal experiences with the hope, growth, grace, and understanding that have come alongside and helped lessen the hurt of the loss. The hurt of the loss will never completely go away…but on some days the pain will hurt less.
I experience the “hurting less” of the loss when I talk about it. Lord knows I talk to myself all the time; I will remember and then talk myself up one side and down the other about my loss. But the healing comes when I share with someone, when that spirit of empathy settles, when someone affirms “I might not have answers or solutions, but yes, I will listen.”
One of my favorite anecdotes about Mother Theresa is this – once she was asked, “Mother Theresa, when you pray what do you ask for?” “Nothing; I listen.” “Ok…if you listen, then what does God say?” “Nothing; God listens.”
I listen. God listens. Do you? Can you? Will you? And when will you begin?
Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.
*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 711.