Idyllic images of rural retirement have been rudely interrupted by a frustratingly stubborn kidney stone.
I went back to Tampa General Hospital on Monday expecting to leave the thing behind but ended up staying until Wednesday. After nearly two hours of Roto-rutting (which I thankfully slept through!) the surgeon gave up and left the broken stone behind. In four weeks he’ll go back in to try again.
(I remember Sundays when I went home grateful that the sermon I preached that day wasn’t my only chance to get it right!)
Again, I can’t say enough good things about TGH but I wouldn’t recommend it for fine cuisine. Hospital food is, well, hospital food. The day after surgery, still groggy and in pain when lunch arrived, I uncovered a hunk of sausage pizza that had at one time been hot and some broccoli that had at one time been green. To be fair, the food improved; it’s hard to mess up chicken noodle soup or chef’s salad. But the service couldn’t have been better and if I were looking for a great menu I can name plenty of good places to go.
Interestingly enough, I have no profound spiritual insights from the experience, except to say that as one who has offered countless prayers for others in the hospital, I am profoundly grateful for the person who held my hand and prayed for me.
Enough, already, on the health report. We’re off for a few days in the Birkshires to relax and soak up some culture!
Now, to something more important.
Enough to Make You Cry
Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.
It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)
Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)
We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.
We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.
We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.
And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.
With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22)
I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said: “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)
I’d probably not choose the desert. I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.
Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)
I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson. I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist. Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God. Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.
Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.
The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.
Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.