Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Devotion - Walking Dark Streets at Night

Derek Webb is giving away his latest album, Mockingbird. Get it while it's Hot. This is one of his strongest songwriting efforts yet. He has forsaken his favorite tiresome game of mixing scriptural metaphors and has actually set about saying what he actually thinks in a very unambiguous way and challenging directly the apathy that so clearly disgusts him about Western Christianity. Definately worth a listen (even if he does try a little to hard to sonically reference Sufjan Stevens), and hey he's actually encouraging you to share it with friends in order to download it so you can have that rarest of precious comodities: a conversation about thoughtful and challenging music.


As for this devotion it is the first of a series I'll be doing all week (that is if I get them done in time).

Walking Dark Streets at Night

[Welcome and greeting]
When you work as a chaplain people often say things to you like: "I could never do your job." "Don't you get depressed?" "I could never deal with that much death, every day." It's hard to know how to respond to these things. Sometimes I try to explain that being present with someone in their pain and suffering, feeling it along with them for a while, isn't the same as experiencing it for yourself, as your own. At best, I get to walk alongside people here on their darkest days, remind them of God's presence. Some days I do that better than others. But at the end of the day, I clock out, I go home, I hug my wife and my baby and I do my best to leave the hospital and its stories here. Because it is not MY pain. But if it is your wife, your child, your mother, you carry that pain with you. It is yours.

Two years ago close to this day, I was carrying a deep pain with me. Halfway around the world, my wife was in the hospital. Our adventures in foriegn lands had landed her with a blood clot, a new diagnosis and a mind full of new questions about what this would mean to us. I was past the point of terror, the crisis when you do everything you can to get them to the hospital. I was to the point where it was all sinking in. I spent my fare share of time in my wife's hospital room, looking nervous and biting my fingernails. From time to time she would insist that I go out and explore the city, Singapore (an Island country the size of Manhattan and about as densly populated). Singapore's streets are remarkably clean and their buried power grid allows them to cultivate and groom a beuatiful arboretum of trees not just in parks but all along their streets, branches arching overhead in carefully orchestrated patterns. I learned to ride the subway to get across town. I walked for miles. My backpack, cd player and headphones let me disappear into the background of the city, I looked like everyone else. But inside I was churning up a storm.

To be sure, there were times I felt cared for by God, times I had to see circumstances working out in our favor as his providential hand. But why couldn't that same hand have prevented her illness in the first place? Questions echoed down busy sidewalks and subway tubes in my mind. One such circumstance was the presence of a dear friend, my college roomate's brother, who just happened to be traveling through Asia that summer and took an all night bus down to see us. He knew the city, but he also knew us. We drank too much coffee in the downstairs coffee shop and he listened to me give voice to my fears and my gratitude, my hope and my pain. But at night, he would retire to his hotel room. It was not ultimately his pain.
One family from a local baptist church (which had actually been started by my friend's grandfather years ago) had provided a room for me to stay in that was within walking distance from my wife's hospital. Singapore has virtually eliminated street crime so it is not uncommon and very safe to walk the streets at night. Often I didn't get out until well after 10PM. I remember one night, close to the end of our time there, I was walking and listening to music but I just wasn't ready to walk up the steps to the dark appartment bedroom. I walked down empty sidewalks, past buildings under construction, past busy late night outdoor food stalls, a warm breeze moved in the equatorial night.

After an hour or two, I finally made it to the appartment building and sat down on the front steps and the weight of all the past weeks' events pushed down hard on me. I still remember the words sung deep into my soul through headphones:

"You're a long, you're a long, you're a long way from home..."

I had been listening to a songwriter named Lori Chaffer, and this song was an articulation of the sort of pain that we all run the risk of carrying when we love; a long catalogue of all the sorts of things that weigh us down, that ache deep inside. The list ends with the recognition that all this suffering does indeed place us a long way from home.

I was reminded of this moment from two years ago, recently by a gentleman I encountered in the hospital. I was on my way out the door, ready to leave the hospital when and a staff member got my attention and asked me to come over. We spoke for a while about his wife whose heart had stopped and was undergoing the extreme measures we call a "code-blue." Anytime he mentioned her strong faith and the possibility she might not make it, his face seized up, lips went taught and he took long gulps of pepsi from a plastic bottle. The physician came and told him that they were still doing all they could but that it was very possible that she would not make it through. He thanked her for her candor and said,
"You know, I knew this, I was praying a few days ago when she had gotten real bad then, and you know, I prayed 'not my will but thine be done.' I guess it shouldn't be... but it's hard to really mean that when it comes down to it."

After a long silence I said, "I think it was just as hard for Jesus to mean it when he prayed it in the garden."

It's hard when you face it, because in a very real sense you face it alone. I spent some more time with this man and let him know he would be in my thoughts and prayers (and he was, as I don't take those words lightly) but eventually I went home. It was his pain to carry through the dark night.

When Jesus found himself on the eve of his great pain, the night before he would be taken prisoner, beaten and crucified, he begged his disciples to be with him, to stay awake, to help him carry the weight of this night for a while.

We read in Mark 14.32-40:
"They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." he took with him Peter and James and John and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; rermain here, and keep awake." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said "Abba, Father, for you all thing are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Petere, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found the sleeping for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him."

When he prayed those words, and sweat rolled down like great drops of blood, he was in one very real sense alone. No one knew what to say to him for comfort, there were no words, indeed none of his closest friends could even stay awake. He carried the pain alone.

But oh, there was the one he carried it to. There was the one to whom he addressed those words: Abba, Father. When we are most alone and find ourself being crushed under the weight of darkest night on lonely lamp-lit urban streets, in a "family room" that just as often separates as unites families, or in a dark garden, with those closest to us in the world unable to comprehend the depth of our suffering or just how much is at stake; at these times, I hope you may find comfort in the Father at the edge of the breaking point. And you can sing along with these words from the same song that flowed into my ears and resonated in my soul that lonely night:

"You will always hurt, you will always sting, because you won't let go of everything,
until you're quiet one dark night and you give up the fight you've fought so long--
and find that trust is not a game
that naive stupid people play in youth
and you let it rain
you let it flood
you let it drive out all the pain of love."

[from Lori Chaffer "You will Always Hurt"]

Lets Pray

[Play "You Will Always Hurt"]


Joshua Daniel Franklin said...

Thanks Matt, that's just the sort of reminder I needed.

leann said...

Matt, what a beautiful devotional. Giving up our own wills and moving toward God's will is, in my experience, one of the most difficult things for us to do. I also went through a very difficult time about two years ago...not life vs. death, but similarly as painful...and that was the hardest thing for me to do. It's so difficult for us to understand why God allows us to go through these things and sometimes it feels as if He has forgotten about us. However, if I hadn't gone through what I did, I wouldn't be where I am today and I wouldn't have met Maburn who keeps me grounded and accountable and who fits me so perfectly it's as if God created him specifically with me in mind. God's ways are higher than our ways, and though it's tough to admit, I really am glad of that. Good devotional.