We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Yesterday, someone asked me how the Presbytery was doing. I mentioned that issues are cropping up, which means things must be getting back to normal.
I’m not being totally cynical in saying that. In the past 18 months or so, I’ve noticed that I have not heard much from the churches regarding the usual conflicts. Of course I was grateful for it, as we had our hands full already. But now I think the churches were not reporting conflict because all their attention was put to just managing the basics under COVID conditions: worship, pastoral care, and the occasional meeting. When everyone is focused on just getting the basics handled, there isn’t time or energy for disappointment or criticism.
So now that the crisis of uncertainty seems to be behind us, we have the cycles to see what is bothering us. It seems to also be the time for some pastors to leave. While in the midst of the crisis, the pastors stayed put so they could help their churches. But, like many others, some pastors took this time of social distancing to reflect on their lives. Some who had delayed their retirement are now retiring, and some church members and pastors are deciding to move to other states where the cost of living is not as demanding, giving them space to try something new.
I’ve been reminded that we humans are wired to respond more to negative concerns than to positive. A couple of us even wonder if we are experiencing so much painful division in this nation because there isn’t a common enemy for us to unite against. During times of war or natural disaster, Americans are able to set aside differences to work together against whatever has been threatening us. But if we are blessed to be without an immediate threat, our response seems to be to find enemies from within. It is unfortunate that we could not come together to fight the COVID virus; I guess the danger the virus presents is not as obvious as a hurricane or an airplane flying into a city building.
It does seem that we humans respond best in the midst of a crisis. We also, as the apostle Paul wrote, build character by facing and enduring challenges. continue to see how people who have faced injustice are capable of living out their faith in more dramatic fashion, with increased capacity to forgive and show compassion to others.
Some have suggested that suffering is an inescapable part of living. I do have to share the lesson I learned from a young woman named Leanne. Leanne was paralyzed from the neck down, and for years she was in a wheelchair. She inherited a disease that caused her paralysis in adolescence, and that caused the death of her father and two brothers. She lived in an apartment building that was designed for people with disabilities, which was right across the street from the church I was pastoring, so we were part of a Bible study group there. Leanne was amazingly upbeat, and she took a paratransit bus into Honolulu each day to help her mother train service dogs.
One day she was on the way into town when she started feeling sharp, stabbing pain in the bottoms of her feet. The pain was so deep it brought her to tears. She couldn’t believe it because she had no feeling below her neck since she was paralyzed. What was happening? Was she imagining it?
She went to her doctor to get an explanation. He examined her and surmised that her nerves were regenerating! Within weeks, she was learning to walk again. And the first sign that she would start to feel and walk again was pain.
It would be wonderful if we all could only experience joy and peace, or if we would find as strong a motivation for compassion as we find in fear or rage. But if we have to face challenges in our lives, may we appreciate God’s love alleviating our pain—and in our gratitude and humility, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, may we turn our suffering and endurance into character and hope.
In about a week, we will hold our last Presbytery meeting of the year. It’s been a very full year, and with Moderator Deborah Owens’ leadership, we will be reflecting on the call to be a Matthew 25 Presbytery. We will also look at the budget and new leadership for 2022, as well as receive John Scholte, Arcadia Community Church’s new pastor, and hear from two people under care of CPM. And we will remember loved ones who have left us this year to go home to God. It will be a very full meeting, offering a glimpse of the richness of life in God’s world.
Whether you are feeling joy or pain, I do pray that you are experiencing the presence of Jesus Christ in all you do. And may we always give thanks for bringing us together in our churches and in the Presbytery. Blessings to you and yours, and may we see the love of God in Jesus Christ through the support of your siblings in Christ. See you at Presbytery.
In hope that does not disappoint us,