Summary: When we look back at our lives and the disasters they contain, we do have to ask whether we brought some of these things on ourselves, whether scapegoating is occurring. But God is at work in all things, even disasters, for the Kingdom.
I’m convinced that the best education in the world is the one you gain listening to other people tell their life stories. So much can be learned just from hearing what others have been through. This past week I attended a workshop for ministers. It was supposed to be about creating and handling diversity in the church. At first I thought it wasn’t worth my time, because two of the presenters didn’t show up and the other two just told their own life stories. As I look back, I need to modify that judgment. It’s not so much that it wasn’t worth the time; it’s more that it wasn’t what I expected. I expected the usual scholarly lecture with three points and a poem. What I got was a couple of life stories. One person told about being both male and female in his makeup. Let me tell you, that stretched my knowledge a good deal! The other person spoke about having to flee his homeland in the trunk of a car, inches from death – something I’ve never even come close to facing. Those life stories seem more important than they did at first. I learned about how others deal with oppression. Far better than a textbook lecture. A story. The best education in the world is the one you gain listening to other people tell their life stories, looking back through the prism of time and interpreting why things happened as they did.
I’m pleased to learn that our youth ministry is going to include a ministry of visitation, so that our teenagers will be visiting some of our most senior members, the ones who can’t come out to church any more, but who have wonderful stories to tell. I want to encourage our youth, when you go, listen. Ask a couple of “how was it when you were young” questions and turn the seniors loose to look back for you. You’ll learn something. You’ll learn that it is possible to live without a computer, possible to survive without being wired for MTV, and even possible to get around without four-on-the-floor!
But you cannot be around people telling their life stories for long without picking up something about their hurts and their pain. Listen just a little while, and people will begin to describe for you how something scarred them. They will tell you about the cutting comment that stays with them after many years. They will tell you about the caustic criticism that they never quite shook off. Listen just a little while to anybody who is telling you his life story, and you will hear a cry of pain. Few there are who do not have something we look back on, and it hurts us still. It haunts us. It hampers us, after all these years. We look back in anger, or in anxiety, or in disappointment, or in fear. Something we have done, and we are still afraid it may catch up with us; or something done to us, and we don’t feel we ever got over it. We look back, our very souls look back, and we feel wounded.
Yes. I am sure of it. I have seen too much and heard too much. After nearly fourteen years as your pastor, and after countless conversations, visits, phone calls, letters, and other communications, I can only stand here and look at you and feel the power of the old spiritual, “My soul looks back and wonders how I got over.” How indeed did we get over, any of us, when there was so much against us? When my soul looks back, don’t I wonder how I or you or anyone got over?
I know a man who had had a bright future as a youngster. He was so intelligent, so capable, so much the apple of his parents’ eye. This young man, part of a large family, was a standout. Something about him just caught your attention, and you knew he had tremendous potential. Had he been a member of this church, his picture and his bio would have been posted out here on the bulletin board with all the other glamorous, accomplished young people who are a part of our church. Oh, he was so brilliant! Seems like his parents just couldn’t do enough for him. They gave him all sorts of advantages. They showered gifts on their standout son. For this young man, life was just a bowl of cherries, ripe for the pickin’. Born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Ready to roll.
But he had not reckoned on something sinister that was brewing, right in his own family. Something that would take a terrible turn and would change his life forever. Something that could, in fact, have turned this young man into bitterness and hostility, something that could have ruined his life, inside and out.