Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fearfully and wonderfully made…

I feel older this week than I did last week, by more than seven days. And that seems like mostly a good thing, but surprising, and a bit sad. Not that getting older is cause for sorrow; I find our culture’s unhealthy obsession with youth annoying, in fact. In my opinion, aging is a blessing- that comes with challenges, sure- but the benefits should outweigh the troubles. Rather, my lingering melancholy at feeling suddenly more grown-up derives from the sad news I received last week. In case you didn’t hear- My good buddy, Mike, died unexpectedly last Tuesday, leaving behind a wife eight-months pregnant, and heartbroken parents, siblings and friends.

I had the privilege to officiate Mike’s wedding, though none of us would’ve guessed I’d do the same for his funeral. It felt both appropriate and ridiculous. That I could help his family this way, so they could just grieve and not worry whether Mike would receive a fitting, familiar tribute, was an honor. And I’m grateful for a church who affords me the flexibility to take those days off. Thank you! But suitable as it was that I, a friend, led the Memorial Service, it’s also a bit absurd. For one, I’m still a young minister, and certainly wondered at times whether I was up to the task. But more absurd, and more importantly, was Mike’s youth and abrupt death. Thirty year-old expectant fathers just aren’t supposed to die. It feels wrong, somehow, an affront to goodness. And I’d be angry, I think, if I wasn’t in shock.

Does that sound familiar? I suspect so. I think that many of us believe, perhaps unconsciously, there’s an order to life. Or there should be. And so think, when that order’s upended, it’s not just sad, but offensive. As if the universe messed up. Sure, if pushed, we’d acknowledge that life is fragile, that we’re never in control, that anything can happen. But that’s not how we live day-to-day, right? We make plans as if we are in control. We (mis)treat friends, neighbors, family, as if we know how long we’ve got left. Fragility, vulnerability are talked of not as facts of life, but symptoms of failure. It seems to me such patterns of behavior and speech are powerful, widely shared, and hey, sometimes even helpful. They may help us live more confidently, take more risks, weather hard times with optimism. Until times get too hard. And something exposes us as fragile, dependent creatures. To which, we might respond angrily, “That should not happen! At least, not to me…”

But Jesus once said, “Blessed are (the meek, poor…) those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It’s like our Leader didn’t share our familiar way of thinking. He pronounced God’s favor- blessings- on the most (obviously) vulnerable and fragile amongst us. And I wonder if, among other reasons, that’s about peace of mind…

Of course, as fragile and angry as I’ve felt recently, peace of mind has been elusive. But after crying with friends, saying my goodbyes, I’m feeling older, and more accepting of my limitations. That I’m not invincible. That, truly, it can happen to me. And as I project those feelings into the future (assuming I maintain and integrate them!), it seems somehow…more peaceful. Like I’ll learn to better trust that which is beyond me more than myself. And while I’m sure God shares my grief at Mike’s death (or anytime our fragility leads to heartache), God probably thinks that perspective is good, that it builds humility and compassion.

Or maybe I’m just groping to cope with a tragic situation! Which is alright too... That many of us have the instinct to search dark clouds for silver linings, that’s probably also a sign of blessedness. Maybe even a sign of trust, that whatever happens, we’ll find ourselves, eventually, in the midst of love and brightness, which no darkness can overcome. I believe deeply that’s where my buddy Mike is now, and will welcome me when it’s my turn. Until then, rest in peace, dear friend.

And may we be more loving to our fragile neighbors- precious children of God, every one.

Grace and Peace,


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