The question that keeps resounding in my head: “Could I have done something different? Better?”
Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that I have been damaged, and the damage that was done was needless and deep. I recognize even as I mourn that my pain is both individual and also common to every human.
The pain strikes deeply a week ago, when words are used as weapons and miscommunications become accusations. I want to retreat from life — my automatic response to personal turmoil — but my responsibilities at work, home and church don’t evaporate. I must still stand up and talk to a room of people about the resurrection of Jesus, and how it changes everything, transforms everything for us now and later.
The irony of coping with the painful situation I find myself in coupled with opening my mouth and speaking the sweet honey of resurrection’s death-defying power does not escape me. I begin to understand, deep down and unforgettable, that what I’m saying is not idealistically true. It is actually true. The past that lead to this pain is not a waste, because it was for Him. The past may be dead for a time, but He will raise it to new life someday. And He is raising me to new life because of that pain right now.
Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting in the Cathedral of Saint Severin (Paris). It was hushed peace, sitting on a wooden pew and watching light flicker in and out of and between shards of stained-color glass. I recall that at the time, my mind wandered to the past and how this centuries-old cathedral had seen its share of bloodshed and war outside of its walls, and immeasurable pain and suffering within as the silent, desperate, praying people came and went through its scarred wooden doors. They too were craving some sign of hope, some image of heaven, some comfort from the God who seemed distant. Saint Severin reminds me–reminded them–that beauty is here and now, even as we wait for victory to fully swallow agonizing defeat.
And I know: the sign, the image, the comfort don’t always look like my mind’s eye has imagined, that maybe they are first shrouded in death before the new life can burst forth through dirt and rock and weed and before it can be built into the glorious, unshakable cathedral we call Home.
“I tell you the truth,” said Jesus, “unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.” (John 12:24)
Then Paul: “The seed you plant doesn’t produce life unless it dies. Right? The seed doesn’t have the same look, the same body, if you will, of what it will have once it starts to grow. It starts out a single, naked seed — whether wheat or some other grain, it doesn’t matter — and God gives to that seed a body just as He has desired…. The body planted in the earth decays. But the body raised from the earth cannot decay. The body is planted in disgrace and weakness. But the body is raised in splendor and power. The body planted in the earth was animated by the physical, material realm. But the body raised from the earth will be animated by the spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 15: 35-44).
Pain and resurrection seem unlikely companions – but the apparent oxymoron produces fruit beyond imagination. Therefore, “my dear brothers and sisters, stay firmly planted–be unshakable–do many good works in the name of God, and know that all your labor is not for nothing when it is for God.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)