Community When the Dam Breaks
This week I was reading an article about the sudden rise in food allergies and I read a line that caught my attention. The author of the article said, We need to go back to the good old days and the “let them eat dirt philosophy.” It was the phrase “back to the good old days” that caught my attention. Those of us who are past a certain age seem to have this idealistic picture of the good old days. You know back when most people were on an even keel, they were able to handle the pressures of life, deal with personal problems and generally did better functioning. There might be times that folks were not running at peak performance, but people did a pretty good job managing.
Even in the good old days, it was inevitable that someone would hit a personal crisis. A marriage melts down, the kids would get into trouble, the finances would implode and their emotional dam would break. But back in the good old days folks would would gather with their community of faith and get the help they needed. The community would sandbag their lives with prayer and compassion and practical advice. They'd get things back together emotionally and move forward. Eventually they would make it back to even and get on with their life. That kind of scenario played out all the time and rarely did anyone really think much about it. That's just how life went.
Maybe you have noticed that we don’t live in the good old days anymore. Maybe we idealized those days, or maybe our communities are drastically changing. Instead of having communities of faith we are now surrounded with religious crowds. And no one is connected enough to lend a helping hand when the dam breaks much less even acknowledge that it is coming.
Let me give you a personal illustration of what I am talking about. Back in January of 2000 Trista and I moved to Gainesville, Georgia to work with a congregation there. I didn’t know the congregation and they didn’t know me, and we were a bit isolated. I was the good looking guy who stood in the pulpit and they were the folks who would walk out and tell me what a great job I had done.
But everything wasn’t gumdrops and lollipops. Preaching was new for me, I didn’t know what I was doing, I could count the number of times that I had written a sermon and preached on one hand and now I was responsible to come up with two sermons a week. We were in a new city and I was having a bit of difficulty finding my way around. On top of all of that I had just lost my grandfather to cancer and we were three weeks removed from suffering through a miscarriage. These were difficult times.
In order to get Trista out of the house I asked her to come with me to the office in the little house next to the church building and assist me in putting up some blinds in my office. Things were not going real well and I ended up stripping the heads out of several of those cheep little brass screws that were included in the package. There I was balancing on a chair and fighting with a stripped screw; The head was stripped and I couldn’t get it to move in or out. That’s when my emotional dam broke; I grabbed a hammer and began to pound that screw and plastic bracket into the wall. Tears began to stream down my face and I just slumped to the floor and began to ball.
You realize I wasn’t crying over the stripped screw. I was crying over losing my grandfather, my child, not knowing what I was doing or how to help Trista with her pain. We all get to points in our life where the little things that we could normally handle, like a stripped screw, become the last drop of water our emotional dams can handle. Once that last drop spills over the side, the whole thing comes crashing down.
You know what I'm talking about because you've experienced it as well. Our world is filled with anxiety and it is so easy to get overwhelmed. We are all carrying around personal issues that we refuse to talk about because we believe that if anyone finds out that we are not the perfect little family then our whole world would come crashing down around us.
We have spent the last few weeks talking about God’s desire for us to be a community of believers. As we continue to establish our foundation, I need to impress on you the truth that you have a deep need to learn how to trust one another so when the dam breaks you can offer and find help. Real trust goes much deeper that the surface talk of weather, politics, and sports that fill our lives.
Today our text is found in the Book of Job. Remember the story of Job? God gives Satan permission to afflict Job. In the blink of an eye Job looses his flocks and herds, then his sons and daughters, and finally his health. He is a broken man, His emotional dam has broken, and I believe we can learn from his experience how to be a community that will help members of our family keep their faith. Look back at the text Scott read for us this morning in Job 2:11-13, I want to point out a few things that are needed in a community of faith.
The first thing that we notice is that Job was a part of a community that was willing to be present.
Jewish legend has it that Job and his three friends lived 300 miles apart. Now while we might not be sure of the exact distance traveled, we can be sure that their concern for their friend was so strong that they were compelled to go and see him.
I truly believe that the most important thing you can do when someone you care about is struggling is just be there. Listen to a familiar passage from Matthew’s Gospel: Read Matthew 25:34 -40
In this parable of the Day of Judgment did you notice whom God blesses? Those who show up. Because you went to the prisons and to visit the sick, God says that you will be blessed. Not because you were able to heal the sickness or that you were shrewd in matters of law and got them off, but because there is power in presence. We all need someone, a community, to walk along side of us when things get difficult. If you don’t think that’s true, then you are lying to yourself. You were not created to live in isolation.
The next thing we see is that they shed tears.
As soon as Job's friends saw him, they began to weep. Joseph Lair defined empathy as “your pain in my heart”, which he might have gotten from Paul who wrote in Romans 12:15? Weep with those who weep. Sometimes when we try to help those who are hurting, we think our goal is to somehow minimize the pain they are feeling by telling them that it isn't all that bad. Which strikes me as a bit hateful, if someone is hurting you can't minimize that. If someone weeping, let them weep. Better yet, weep with them.
Job's friends sat with him seven days and seven nights. They were willing to give Job the gift of their tears and their time. One of the mistakes we make when someone is hurting is to rush to the scene like volunteer fire fighters, put out the blaze, then pack up our stuff and head back to the station. We forget that grief, whether it comes from the death of a loved one or the death a relationship or any other kind of end, requires more than an emergency visit from us, real empathy takes time.
This week I watched in horror as the streets I used to drive in Port Arthur, and the homes I shared meals were are under water. And the reaction from our country has been immediate, we have collected money and supplies. People hitched their boats to their trailers and drove 18 hours to go and help the flood victims evacuate from their homes. But we will do what we always do. If a few more days the romance of Harvey will be over and people will move on to the next tragedy, the next need. But the folks in South East Texas will still need help, they will still need supplies. Grieving takes time, If someone is dealing with their own emotional dam break, they need folks to show up and not just be there in the immediate aftermath, but to also be there tomorrow, as well. And the next day. And the next year. It takes a lot of time to help the hurting.
I love the fact Job’s friends were willing to let him take the time he needed to grieve. They sat with him seven straight days in silence. Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once. But to many of us time is worth more than our money. We live in an instant society, where microwaveable popcorn just takes to long to pop. Your time is important, my time is important, but we glorify God by using what is the most important to us for his Glory.
It’s also important to notice that they went as a Team.
The text says they agreed to meet and go together. Teamwork is not just useful it is a Biblical principal. Jesus sent out His disciples two by two. Joshua sent two spies into the promised land. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem by putting people together in teams. Teamwork means that the burden of helping doesn't fall to just one person. Some hurts are not only too much for the hurting one to handle, they are too much for the helpers to handle as well.
People who are willing to trust, care, and support one another can overcome any obstacle. I want to remind you of what the Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 4:9: two are better than one. If you know anything about Ecclesiastes, you know that the author doesn’t have a very positive outlook on life, actually he starts the book by saying; Useless! Useless! Completely useless! Everything is useless.”. But he stops in the middle of the letter to remind us that even when everything is meaningless, it’s better to have someone to join you and work by your side than to try to go this path alone.
Herman Trueblood tells the story about one day when he was enjoying a day at the beach. He noticed a man and his two sons trying to push their car up a small hill and into a vacant parking lot. He said that immediately he began to hear two distinct voices going to war in his head. The first said, That man needs help, you ought to help them push or they will never make it. The other voice protested, This is really none of your business, It’s hot and you are out here relaxing. Plus you will get all dirty if you try to help, and they is no guarantee you will help them get that car up the hill.
He finally yielded to his better impulse and joined the man and his sons struggling to get the car up the hill. He put his shoulder against the back fender and little by little the car moved up the hill and finally they made it to the parking lot. In the parking lot Trueblood said a simple thing happened which he would remember often during his life. The father stuck out his dirty hand, and said, I am very glad that you came along. You had just enough strength, added to ours, to make the thing go. Later Trueblood would write, There are many thousands of people struggling to get some heavy load over the hill, and I probably have just enough strength, added to theirs, to make the thing go.
I want you to notice that they knew how to be silent.
Look at verse 13. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was. The Jewish tradition was to mourn the dead for seven days and seven nights. During that time no one could speak a word until the grieving person initiated conversation. That might be a pretty good idea for us to look into as well. When your are having internal struggle sometimes we try to fill the silence with small talk, and from personal experience the last thing I want to discuss when my world is falling apart is how much we need some rain.
A friend of mine was diagnosed with brain cancer and for him to undergo treatments they had to place bags between his skin and skull. They would slowly fill the bags with saline trying to stretch his skin. Five days a week He had to go to the hospital for the treatments, which were very painful. He would go and spend two hours sitting in a chair as they slowly filled the bags. And there were several people from their congregation offered to help out and go with him to the hospital and sit with him.
After the treatments were over, he shared that during the times that people would go and sit in silence, just hold his hand the treatments were much more bearable. But when someone would come and try to talk and tell stories about other peoples sufferings and how bad he looked or how good he looked considering what he was going through, he said the pain doubled. Being there and being quiet when someone is hurting is another way of saying, I love and care about you. Don't be afraid of using the tool of silence.
Which leads us to what might be the most important thing we talk about this morning. I have always been struck by the fact that Job’s real trouble started when his friends opened their mouths. The Bible has a lot to say about the right word at the right time. I like Proverbs 25:11, "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." And Proverbs 16:24, "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."
There are some words that are always welcome, always a great idea.
I'm sorry. If you're an expert you can say, I'm so sorry.
I'm praying for you.
I love you.
Sometimes it's best to ask a question. How can I help? works well. Don't expect an answer. Just asking the question speaks volumes.
At the same time, words can be very destructive. Proverbs 18:21 says the tongue has the power of life and death. So be careful not to kill with words. Never say, It's for the best. That begs a question; who's best? And who's making that decision?
And while I know it's in the Bible, but when someone is standing over the grave of a loved one, it’s not the best time to quote from Romans 8:28 and tell them that "All things work together for the good." Show me the good in the death of someone you loved. Show me the good in a divorce. Show me the good in a cancer diagnosis. Certainly, with time, we can see how God worked through those situations; but not when the news is new and the nerves are raw and the pain is throbbing. That's not the time to talk of the good.
And please never say, I know just how you feel. Because in reality you can’t. Even if you've been through a divorce, that was yours, this is theirs. Even if you lost a loved one to cancer, that was your loved one and your loss. This is theirs. Every person's grief and loss is different.
God has set us in a community so that we will help people who are hurting. It is a difficult, demanding call, but one we cannot avoid. There will be a time in each of our lives when we need a community. So understanding what grief is, whether it's from death, disease, divorce, loss of a job, a wayward teenager, or whatever, just understanding how painful it is let’s us know how much we are needed.
Edgar Jackson describes grief this way: “Grief is a young widow trying to raise her three children, alone. Grief is the man so filled with shocked uncertainty and confusion that he strikes out at the nearest person. Grief is a mother walking daily to a nearby cemetery to stand quietly and alone a few minutes before going about the tasks of the day. She knows that part of her is in the cemetery, just as part of her is in her daily work. Grief is the silent, knife-like terror and sadness that comes a hundred times a day, when you start to speak to someone who is no longer there. Grief is the emptiness that comes when you eat alone after eating with someone for many years.
Grief is teaching yourself to go to bed without saying good night to the one who had died. Grief is the helpless wishing that things were different when you know they are not and never will be again. Grief is a whole cluster of adjustments, apprehensions, and uncertainties that strike life in its forward progress and make it difficult to redirect the energies of life. But ultimately, grief of all kinds is just one more part of a fallen world that will one day be finally and eternally rendered obsolete.”
God did not leave us alone to struggle and suffer through this world and it’s pain. He created us to need and belong to a community of believers. And church if we continue to settle for a religious crowd then who will be there when the dam breaks in your life and mine?
So this morning we come to our time of invitation. And while we are singing this song, what we are really asking is How can we help?