I met a man this summer at a graduation party my family attended. He was introduced to me as Pastor Don. My eyes and my mind struggled to communicate as I heard his name, for the title Pastor caught me off guard.
The word Pastor immediately evokes an image, right?
The image, I would dare say, is of an upright man walking, talking, and preaching.
But this wasn’t the image of Pastor Don.
See, Pastor Don was not in a standing position when I met him. Nor did he respond verbally to my, “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.” He didn’t reach out to shake my hand, and his legs extended at rest in the wheelchair in which he slightly reclined. His feet were thickly wrapped in white dressings, and I found myself fleetingly wondering if he, indeed, was a pastor.
With his eyes Pastor Don replied to my greeting.
His personal care attendant gave no explanation for Pastor Don’s condition upon our introduction, and I could only surmise what illness or injury he suffered from. I wondered if Pastor Don’s mind was all there and why his PCA had introduced him as she did.
After all, don’t all pastors preach from the pulpit?
I soon discovered that, indeed, Pastor Don’s mind was all there when his PCA pulled out a letterboard and Pastor Don replied to her question. I was, and still am, processing this introduction. It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the fact that this once able-bodied man now lives 24 hours a day immobile, dependent wholly on others for his every need.
His eyes are his only form of communication.
One cannot meet Pastor Don and not question God’s goodness, God’s purpose in allowing a man to be shut up within his own body. How much can one take, one wonders? Is this really life, we ask? We shudder and some of us turn away. We don’t want to be confronted by the harsh realities of this life. We don’t want to encounter some people’s hard for fear it will “rub off” on us. We don’t, God forbid, want their hard.
Stepping into someone else’s hard is, well, hard.
We may encounter someone else’s hard for a few hours or a few days, or, perhaps even lie with them in the trenches of their hard for several months. But what if someone’s hard lasts years? Are we willing to walk with them all the way?
Friends, too many of us are scared by the hard. Too many of us aren’t willing to do hard. We balk at the idea of enduring for longer than we’re comfortable with. We want an end to our hardship. And God forbid someone else’s hard becomes ours!
And, yet, isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? He stepped into our hard, birthed into the beauty and mess of this world. He endured ridicule, persecution, and rejection from his own family. His life was short, like many here on earth.
But Jesus didn’t shy away from or fear the hard. In fact, he stepped boldly into it. He entrusted his life to the One who gave him it. Jesus knew what was coming and chose not to run away. He walked forward, not stepping back or turning away.
“The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.”
― Gerald L. Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss
Unlike Jesus, however, we tend to bury our heads in the sand, turn our face the other way, and avoid eye contact when we meet hard. When our son died, there were just certain things I couldn’t face. I couldn’t bring myself to read the accident report. I refused to view his death certificate. I couldn’t look at pictures.
Rather funny, isn’t it, how avoidance doesn’t change reality, yet we act as if it does anyway?
The truth hurts, and there are certainly times, like in the death of my son, where it’s okay to spare yourself the details, to avoid “going there” because there is nothing productive in it. There are times when it is right to allow the mind to protect the heart.
But stepping into the hard of someone else’s circumstances? It’s rarely right to turn away. And lest you get the wrong idea and think I’m asking you to sell your house and all your earthly possessions, I’m not advising that. (Unless you’re convinced God is telling you to do that!) What I am saying is that entering into someone else’s hard is not as messy or as complicated as you’re envisioning.
Do you know that stepping into the hard can be simple?
It can be as simple as sending that person a card or note of encouragement.
It can be as simple as praying for them daily.
It can be as simple as running an errand for them.
It can be as simple as providing childcare for an hour or two.
It can be as simple as gifting them with a gift card to the grocery store, the gas station, the salon, or the massage therapist.
It can be as simple as sitting with them for a half hour.
Simple is simple. Sometimes it requires inconvenience. And time. And resources. And we aren’t often willing to sacrifice these precious commodities. Yes, stepping into the hard, though simple, isn’t easy. It means we must deliberately slow our busy pace to keep in step with the one whose life runs perpendicular to ours. Oftentimes, those steps are a bit chafing, like a new pair of shoes, stiff and uncomfortable at first.
But I can tell you this, friends, because I’ve been in the place where my life ran perpendicular, unable to keep up with the runners. Like Pastor Don, I silently watched as people walked right on by. I know that stepping into the hard is hard, but it is also where you meet the most amazing people. The individuals who stepped into my hard were the ones who allowed me to be who I was: in a place of weakness with no strength of my own.
Pastor Don lives with this reality every single day. His body weak, yet God’s voice loud and clear through it. This pastor still preaches, all right.
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9 (KJV)
So how about it? Will you step into the hard with someone today? Will you see, perhaps, a man in a wheelchair or will you take a simple step closer and peer into his eyes? I’m betting if you step forward, you’ll hear him preach.