Maybe it was because I’d caught the bug my kids were sick with. Maybe it was due to being up very early all week with our new puppy. Maybe it was PMS. Not sure what it was, but as I made the drive to another suburb of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) to preach, my mind and heart were swirling with emotions. For some reason, I was feeling a kind of vulnerability akin to pressing on burnt skin ….. every thought seemed to prod and poke some tender point, some memory or sense, and the emotions seemed so close to the surface. I felt hurt. The pain flooding through seemed overwhelming.
For those of you who’ve not had the privilege of preaching, perhaps you haven’t often thought about the raw mess of humanity that steps into the pulpit in front of you on a Sunday morning. Preaching at the best of times is a vulnerable experience. Opening yourself to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Submitting yourself to be used as a vessel. Desiring to connect with the members of the Body and hoping they encounter the presence of the living God through your words is no trivial matter.
And so in the chaos of my thoughts and emotions on the 45 minute drive, I made my supplication, “Lord, please calm me so that I can serve this congregation faithfully.” But despite my prayers, my practiced disciplines to center me prior to preaching, and my endeavours to quiet my heart and mind in the spirit of Psalm 131, “I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” …… I was struggling to enter the Lord’s rest.
I seemed to be living in the midst of Psalm 41:
Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the LORD delivers them in times of trouble. 2 The LORD protects and preserves them— they are counted among the blessed in the land— he does not give them over to the desire of their foes. 3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness. 4 I said, “Have mercy on me, LORD; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” 5 My enemies say of me in malice, “When will he die and his name perish?” 6 When one of them comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it around. 7 All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, 8 “A vile disease has afflicted him; he will never get up from the place where he lies.” 9 Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me. 10 But may you have mercy on me, LORD; raise me up, that I may repay them. 11 I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. 12 Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever. 13 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.
A number of people in my life, who I love and consider friends, had behaved in ways that hurt me. I could rationalize the potential reasons for their oversight or unawareness – but for whatever reasons the hurt seemed to resist the intellectual justifications I attempted. It hurt to feel like I wasn’t as much a part of some friends’ lives as I used to be. It hurt to know that my willingness to transparently express vulnerability had resulted in silence and avoidance. And it hurt to be told that I had been viewed with contempt by friends who felt I had become “soft” in my views and convictions. These myriad of experiences all seemed to collide together in a kaleidoscope of emotion, sadness and loss.
But…… as I entered the sanctuary, the worship team was practicing their song list. The tech team came and got me and my laptop wired and set to go. And as I settled into a chair in the empty sanctuary to again try to pray, the worship leader began to sing,
Draw me close to you Never let me go I lay it all down again To hear you say that I’m your friend You are my desire No one else will do Cause nothing else can take your place To feel the warmth of your embrace Help me find the way Bring me back to you You’re all I want You’re all I’ve ever needed You’re all I want Help me know you are near
This is a song that goes way back for me. Written in 2001, it is a song that has brought comfort and ushered me into a safe and quiet place of intimacy. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. And in those moments, as I listened and quietly sang, my heart began to drink from the source that I had been searching for all morning. In those moments, God did some healing in my heart. His presence allowed some of the hurt to retreat. I was able to receive. I became like that weaned child, quiet and secure in knowledge of being loved.
Indeed, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10)
My guess is that some of you have experiences like this. That at times you also struggle to not be overwhelmed by the hurts that have been projected on you. That the secondary emotions of anger and resentment can nip at your heels and distract you from the source of comfort and love. In these times, we need one another …… and need the presence of the Lord to come, in sometimes surprising, sometimes simple ways, to soothe our chaotic minds and tender hearts, and remind us that our life is found in him. May you know God’s love and shalom today.