Invite Hope to Stay
- By: Candace McKibben
One of the reasons I enjoy picking up trash along the road that my church has adopted is the opportunity to talk with members as we clean the roadside. Sometimes our conversation is light-hearted. We wonder who will win the big game or if the next cold snap will kill the redbuds that have already made their glorious appearance. We contemplate just who would throw a whole bag of trash out a car window without regret or guess who will find the most interesting item along the road during the clean-up. Sometimes our conversations are serious. We share concern about the state of world affairs, the illnesses of people we love or the relationships that are troubled. We acknowledge that very few families we’ve known are immune from heartache, and how somehow knowing that we are all in this together can be a source of comfort and encouragement.
I think of people I love dearly who are ill, concerned about medical test results, in need of a job, dealing with relational issues, grieving, valiantly fighting addiction, or burdened with debt. I certainly know of people I love who are joyful and live life gratefully, ironically some of whom I’ve just described. But that we all have family concerns is, I believe, for the most part true.
Last Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at Grace Lutheran Church. The lectionary readings were beautiful, full of imagery, reminding us of God’s power, grace, and love. Even for those not familiar with Psalms or Isaiah, I imagine the words are recognizable or at least resonant. The prophet speaks of God renewing and restoring us like eagles in flight or strong runners in stride. The psalmist notes that God nurtures the earth, heals the broken-hearted and binds up wounds.
Against this backdrop, the gospel passage was about Peter’s mother-in-law being healed by Jesus. A simple story told in three of the four gospels, I was surprised by a detail I do not remember noticing before. Though all of the sick and mentally ill from the town gathered at the door of Peter’s house to be healed like Peter’s mother- in- law, the scripture says that Jesus heals “many”; not all, but many. And then he was on his way.
Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, says humorously, “That is the problem with miracles. If somebody gets one you want to get yours, too.” But the scripture says not everyone got theirs. It must have been a problem for the disappointed ones who did not receive such healing grace. And I believe it gets at the heart of our own issue with suffering and family heartache. We wonder why some get healed and others do not. We wonder why so many struggle with family problems and wrestle with the injustice that all are not resolved and restored.
I read a wonderful quote several weeks ago that has settled in my heart. It was written by Maya Angelou, who knew more than her share of family heartache. It says, “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Invite one to stay.” It was how Maya Angelou lived with joy and gratitude despite her personal sorrows and is a prescription for those of us who would live richly amidst the heartache and pain that we know.
This week Christians are entering the season of Lent. Eastern Christians observe Lent starting on Clean Monday, which is on February 19 this year. Western Christians start on Ash Wednesday, the day that reminds us we are mortal, with all the urgency and opportunity that awareness brings. This year Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. During Lent, believers and seekers are encouraged to look within to discover who we are and who we want to be. We are encouraged to invite hope to occupy the space of our lives instead of the fear or disappointment or brokenness that might have taken up residence. What better day to begin the Lenten journey than Valentine’s Day, when love is the theme? Looking within our lives from a place of being loved, gives us courage to invite hope to stay.
Several years ago now, Jan Richardson, a United Methodist minister, poet, and artist, wrote a blessing inspired by her dread of the first Valentine’s Day after her husband’s death. In it she says she “marvels at the mystery of how a heart so broken can go on beating, as if it were made for precisely this—as if it sees the heart’s sole remedy for breaking is to love still.” It is a marvel that most all of us have family concerns and yet find a way to take first one step and then the next, often with joy and gratitude and inspired by love. Whether you celebrate Lent or not, may we all find a way to heal our broken hearts and invite hope to stay.