I am home! Flying into Kodiak, then driving back from the airport, all this was waiting for me . . .
The trip is still fresh in my mind---and body. I traveled a lot of places these last two weeks: Minneapolis, Rochester, Calgary, Lethbrige, Chicago, Charlotte, Blacksburg Virginia, Seattle. I met some true heroes of the faith. But there were a few surprises. “Hell” wasn’t on the itinerary, but I unexpectedly went there. And I don’t mean the part at one airport when I couldn’t flag down the rental car shuttle leaving me stranded with two heavy suitcases full of books and in the midst of a 2 day massive blinding headache--then on the phone with someone in India who couldn’t help and a taxi driver who couldn’t find the address and then having to drive in the dark in a city I didn’t know with my google maps not working on my phone . … Not that. Though that came close.
Another kind of hell. Something like The kind that Jean-Paul Sartre envisioned in his famous play, “No Exit” where three people are trapped in a room for eternity. The torment? Words. From one another. They punish each other with piercing hostile words that eviscerate and destroy----except they cannot die. Nor can they ever speak words of love. Nor can they stay silent.
Have you been to that room? I don’t know how I got there this trip. But there I was. The room in my head and the voices . .. the hostile voices that ridicule. That say, “Who are you to be doing this? Who do you think you are, standing in front of these people? What are these words you’re speaking? Surely they can’t be true. And you!! You’re not worthy of this. You’ll never be worthy.” When does it end? I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years---speaking, writing, teaching. Sometimes in a little room with 4 people around a table. Sometimes in an auditorium with 4,000---and everything in between. And still they come, the voices. Sometimes they are spoken by an actual person, or written in a letter. Sometimes they come from someone in the past, who is offended that I have been given a stage. “Why you and not me?” they accuse, suspicious. Sometimes they come in the still silence just before I lean in to the mic.
I know you know about this. The attacks, how they come whenever we step out, when we dare to speak from the Word of God, when we dare to exercise the grace that’s been given to us, no matter where our sphere of influence---the boardroom, the stage, the page, the kitchen, the sanctuary, the podium, the ER, the classroom . . And the truth is that these voices will never completely go away, just as our wounds will never completely go away. As Christian Wiman, a wise and gifted poet has written,
“There are wounds we won’t get over. There are things that happen to us that, no matter how hard we try to forget, no matter with what fortitude we face them, what mix of religion and therapy we swallow, what finished and durable forms of art we turn them into, are going to go on happening inside of us for as long as our brains are alive.”
But this is not the end of the matter. The enemy means it so. He thinks the voices and the wounds will trap us and stop us. But they don’t. We listen to them---because they are true. We know they are true. But they are not the whole truth. No---never will the enemy speak the whole truth. Here is the beginning of the rest of the Truth: "For we are HIS workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, prepared in advance for us to do … ." "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--" So here is my answer when these voices come: "You’re right. I am not worthy. I never have been and I never will be worthy. But I AM made righteous. I AM made holy. I AM made blameless by the One who IS worthy! HE is worthy. And He has glued this wounded soul together, piece by piece, and given me work to do. That’s all. Not worthy. Just glued together, and willing."
And here was heaven. On the last day, the flight home, while I was still licking my wounds and my fatigue, I sat next to a couple who had lost their daughter. I don’t know how she died, but it was a lingering death. The pain was still on their faces, but also joy. They spoke of the ways God met them there, His presence, His touch, His constant assurances that their daughter was now with Jesus in heaven. But still, tears . … On the same flight, a friend coming home from an accident and emergency surgery in a wheelchair, another friend beside me in need. Everywhere I looked I saw people yearning for God, suffering, hoping, bent over and raising a hand for help. There it was---the closest cure I know of, the exit from that locked room: my neighbors. Their needs. Their wounds. Their griefs. Their thirst.
As I listened to each one, sometimes with tears, sometimes holding their hand, the accusatory voices were gone. Gone. Only these remaining: "But now he has reconciled you to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--" "For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, prepared in advance for us to do … ." And you---are you like me, an unworthy wounded soul, now glued together piece by piece, and made willing? Then Praise God. Give thanks. Serve your neighbor. And we shall be free----and well.