I have been asked recently to lead conversations about grief at two corporate/business complexes. This was part of an overall “wellness” program these businesses have instituted in order to promote health among their employees.
At the most recent workshop, there were a number of very fresh “grief points” — a suicide, a cancer diagnosis, a tragic accident, and others. You are familiar with the phrase “the elephant in the room” — when something huge looms over everyone in a place, but no one ever speaks of it. That’s kind of what the feeling was at this business.
I was struck by the variety of theological backgrounds in the room and some of the “religious soundbites” that emerge when discussing such things. “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” “God must have needed another angel in heaven,” etc. We are all pretty good at avoiding dealing with pain and trying to make it go away.
I was even more struck by how many in the room had no language whatsoever to deal with such grief. We, in the church, have our issues and God knows we don’t do everything right, but we DO understand pain and suffering. It is at the heart of the Jesus story and that story says we can overcome our grief—we can experience resurrection from our suffering.
The world we live in is full of wounds. You and I know too many Christian brothers and sisters who have been wounded by their own churches. For various reasons they engaged with the church and got hurt.
If you’ve been listening to the presidential debates, you also know that there are wounded Republicans and Democrats, too. And there are wounded Americans of every stripe—wounded soldiers, wounded workers, wounded immigrants. Many stories, but common elements. Things didn’t work out as we had expected. We trusted the wrong people. Maybe we were betrayed, maybe we were just unlucky—and maybe somebody really was out to get us.
Some wounds get healed. Some don’t. Mostly, though, we move on. We put the wound behind us. When we are at our best, we forgive the one who wounded us. Or else we try to ignore it—or the one who hurt us. We try to move on as if nothing had happened. We learn to live with a “limp” or a broken limb, as it were, because the urge to live is greater than the urge to give up.
Churches of every kind experience pain. We wound each other or we feel wounded by the world around us. There are always those who believe for reasons all their own that history can and must go backward. The church at its best does not go backward. We press on—conservative or liberal, old or young, progressive or traditional, male or female—all of us, onward!
We are wounded folks, all of us, in one way or another. But God is transforming us by love. Not by victory over the ones who wound us, not by revenge, but by love.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.