Too much to bear

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Too much to bear

May 26, 2022 -

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It’s been an awful week as we start the summer of 2022.

There are no words that are adequate when nineteen fourth-grade children will have no summer. Maybe that’s a good reason a season of silence and lamenting may be the best thing you can do this Sunday when your church family gathers for the worship of our Almighty Father and God of all comfort.

We must believe that the Prince of Peace and Wonderful Counselor is with us and especially with those whose families are fractured, whose children are being laid to rest, whose souls cannot rest.

As we cannot and should not forget places like Sandy Hook, Columbine, Buffalo, and Mother Emanuel, so we now must not forget Uvalde and Robb Elementary. Tragically, there are now too many places to name.

A wise word from Carmen LaBerge

We are trying to breathe, to sense the comforting presence of God in the Holy Spirit, to receive and breathe in his grief, assurance, and hope.

Yesterday, Dr. Jim Denison and I recorded a podcast with author, speaker, and Christian radio host Carmen LaBerge. It will be available this Monday on The Denison Forum Podcast.

During the conversation, I confessed that I had to turn away from the news of the school shooting because it was too much for me to bear. Having just spent four days with my two beautiful grandchildren, I could not emotionally endure the horrific news of this tragedy.

Days before, I’d also turned away from the reports of the Buffalo grocery store shooting. As I shared with Carmen and Jim that it felt “too much to bear,” Carmen had a great word for me.

She said, “It is too much to bear. You are not able to bear it. We are not able to bear it. But praise God that he is great enough and good enough to bear it for us.”

That strong word about our God brought me hope. It was helpful to talk it through together with sacred siblings.

Who pastors the pastor?

The pastors and ministers I know are deeply caring people. Our calling into ministry can be traced back to God’s work of grace in us. We experience and become enamored with the cleansing of God’s mercy, his adoption of us into his family, and the joy of his presence, peace, and hope. In gratitude for these and other blessings, we want others to find and revel in what we have discovered in Christ.

But who pastors the pastor? Who ministers to the minister? Where do front-line servants like you go to process the sometimes overwhelming brokenness of your church family, your community, our country, or our generation?

It is too much for us to bear, but we are called to stand in the midst of shattered lives with those who have been shattered. As we do, we receive, feel, share, and experience their pain to an extent. This is what it means to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). This is what we signed up for when we accepted God’s invitation into ministry.

So, this Sunday, as we mark Memorial Day, it is our sacred privilege to help the hurting hearts that will gather, including ourselves.

Yes, we should gratefully remember our fallen soldiers and first responders of every age and generation. We should also remember those soldiers, officers, and first responders who, in the last few days, weeks, and months, have stepped in to stop evil and assist victims. I shudder to think of the images these servants can never unsee. One of the jobs of a minister is to give people a frame through which to think biblically and hopefully. Another is to remind people of the hope of Christ that is real and that we must hold onto.

Grieve, share, hope, pray

None of us has a magic formula for this. No, they don’t “teach this in seminary.” Praise God that the Spirit prays for us and with us with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Carve out time in your gatherings for the congregation or small group to lament, to cry out, to pray. Invite people to kneel or to pray in groups of three or five. Encourage your small groups to make time to let people speak their pain, fears, and grief.

Like my conversation with Carmen and Jim, there is healing in shared grief and safe fellowship. Lead the way and discover pathways where your people can offer material help. In my town, there is an effort launching today to send funds to cover the funerals of those taken at Robb Elementary. Is it not a grace-filled act that none of those families would be required to pay the cost to honor and bury their loved ones?

Then carve out room for yourself. Get some extra time alone with God today and this weekend and next week to just be with him. To cry with him and before him over all this senseless violence and loss of beautiful life. Intentionally create some time to be with your spouse and family and close friends.

As Dr. Denison often does, let me also suggest to you the prayers of the Scottish minister John Baillie in his work, A Diary of Private Prayer. On the twenty-sixth day of the month, Baillie suggests this as part of our prayer,

“May Christ be formed in me and let me learn from him how to be humble in heart, gentle in bearing, modest in speech, helpful in action, and prompt in carrying out my Father’s will.

“O Lord, you encompass the whole earth with your most compassionate love, and it is against your will that any of your children should be lost or die. Grant your blessing today to all who are striving to make a better world.

“Break down, O Lord, all the forces of violence, cruelty, and evil. Defeat all selfish and power-driven schemes and bless everything that is planned in the spirit of Christ and carried out to the honor of his blessed name. Amen.”

And amen!

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