Read stories of faith heroes who experienced extraordinary transitions that changed the trajectory of their lives toward God’s purpose.
Lament or grieving comes from within. If we are to grieve, we must dare to look and feel within. There we will discover the loss that has led us to choose to believe that life is unfair. As long as we deny our suffering, as long as we avoid the pain of our loss, we do not take the inward journey. Yet spiritual healing requires that inward journey. For as long as we deny our loss and our suffering, we are pretending to be self-sufficient; we are isolating ourselves from reaching out for help; we are perhaps even fooling ourselves into believing that we need no one else, not even God.
Reaching out to make connection is innately human. We may choose to believe that we are self-sufficient, but even that will not lessen our need for connection. In 1999, Dr. Joseph Bruner operated on little Samuel Armus while he was still a fetus in his mother’s womb. A remarkable picture by Michael Clancy shows Samuel’s arm extending out of the surgical incision of the womb. The baby’s tiny hand appears to be instinctively holding on to one of Dr. Bruner’s fingers. While there has been debate as to Samuel’s intention, it is clear that from very early in our lives we have a need to reach out. That need is twofold: a need to reach out to offer help and a need to reach out to ask for help.
As we grow through later childhood, we are often encouraged to deny our need for help. Lamentation or grieving can help us re-discover our need to reach out for help.
Those who join the military service soon learn to deny their own needs in order to serve the greater good. They learn to “buck up,” to “keep their chin up,” and to “tough it out.” Over the course of time, when we are given such encouragement not to look inward, not to attend to our own needs, we can begin to believe that reaching out for help is a personal weakness and is a sign of a character flaw. Further, when promotions are based on showing a high degree of self-reliance, and revealing emotional or spiritual need is a liability in one’s career, the belief in self-sufficiency is greatly reinforced.
B.J., as his buddies called him, was such a Marine. He was tough. He was respected by his peers as someone who always gave 110 percent, who never quit, and who never complained. He seemed headed for major promotions and a distinguished full-time military career.
But then the unthinkable happened. He contracted a disease that left him paralyzed. It blind-sided him. He knew the risks of battle. He thought he had prepared himself for the possibility of losing a leg or an arm from a roadside explosion, or even a major injury from a sniper. But the indignity of being paralyzed from some disease had never crossed his mind. His years of training to fight an insurgent enemy did not prepare him for the invasion of a microscopic organism and paralysis.
When B.J. was flown back to the States to recover, he felt he was letting his buddies down. More than anything, he wanted to be back in the thick of the fight. He had grown to love those with whom he served. He had never felt so close to any other human beings. Now he was in a specialty care hospital for the paralyzed, among strangers.
B.J. was angry, bitter and resentful. He changed from someone who could be counted on in a tough situation to someone who could be counted on to give everyone around him a tough time. In the hospital ward, he would often pull the sheets up over his head and tell people to go away. He would yell and swear at those who came to help him. Life had treated him unfairly and he took his anger out on anyone who tried to get close to him.
He resented anyone who was able to walk, anyone who could have a normal bowel movement and clean themselves, and anyone who could make love. His wife had traveled from their home to be with him in the hospital. He even treated her unkindly as she reached out to care for him. He told himself that she was pitying him and that she couldn’t possibly be there out of love. He reasoned that no one could love him as he was, a paralyzed mass who could no longer consider himself to be a real man. He felt contempt for himself and expected that everyone else did as well. Therefore, he rejected everyone who tried to help him because he feared they would reject him.
After a month of trying to get through to him, B.J.’s wife confronted him. “B.J., I’m going home. I am seriously thinking of divorcing you. You are throwing a pity party and you are the only guest. I resent your turning away from me. You are selfishly thinking only of yourself and your career. “Well, what happened to you happened to all of us. It has been no picnic for me either. Dealing with your paralysis would be bad enough, though we could manage that together, but I am not willing to deal with your refusal to help yourself and accept the help of so many good people around you, including me. I’m going home.
“As far as I can see, you’ve got a choice. You can continue to nurse your hurt pride. You can continue to blame life and God and everybody around you for a bad situation and feel sorry for yourself for the rest of what will be your miserable life. You can keep those covers over your head and try to shut the world out. Or you can get off your pity pot, ask for the help you definitely need, and get on with building your life in new ways. If you are willing to do that, I want to do that with you. If you don’t, I’m not wasting my life because you have decided to waste yours. Let me know if you are willing to ask for help by this time tomorrow, or I’m out of here.”
B.J. is not alone in facing difficult choices. Throughout history, people have had to face the unfairness of life. Some have turned bitter and turned their backs on the world; others have turned to ask for help. The Scripture passages in this chapter offer examples of those who decided to reach out, who dared to experience their grief, who dared to hope that, with the help of others and God, their lives could be renewed.
Readings from the Old Testament / Hebrew Scriptures
When the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt, God heard their cries and called upon Moses to lead the people out of slavery.
The LORD said, “I have seen how cruelly my
people are being treated in Egypt; I have heard
them cry out to be rescued from their slave
drivers. I know all about their sufferings, and
so I have come down to rescue them from the
Egyptians and to bring them out of Egypt to a
spacious land, one which is rich and fertile.
I have indeed heard the cry of my people, and I
see how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now
I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you
can lead my people out of his country.”
In the 9th century B.C., when armies invaded the land of Judah, King Jehoshaphat prayed to the Lord for guidance.
From every city of Judah people hurried to Jerusalem to ask the LORD for guidance, and they and the people of Jerusalem gathered in the new courtyard of the Temple. King Jehoshaphat went and stood before them and prayed aloud, “O LORD God of our ancestors, you rule in heaven over all the nations of the world. You are powerful and mighty, and no one can oppose you. You are our God. When your people Israel moved into this land, you … gave the land to the descendants of Abraham, your friend, to be theirs forever. They have lived here and have built a temple to honor you, knowing that if any disaster struck them to punish them – a war, an epidemic, or a famine – then they could come and stand in front of this Temple where you are worshiped. They could pray to you in their trouble, and you would hear them and rescue them.
2 Chronicles 20.4-9
The prophet Jonah disobeyed God’s command. He tried to flee by boarding a ship bound for Spain. A storm arose, and Jonah was cast into the sea and was swallowed by a large fish. In his distress, Jonah called out to God.
From deep inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God:
“In my distress, O LORD, I called to you, and you answered me.
From deep in the world of the dead I cried for help, and you heard me.
You threw me down into the depths, to the very bottom of the sea,
where the waters were all around me, and all your mighty waves rolled over me.
I thought I had been banished from your presence and would never see your holy Temple again.
The psalm writers called out to God, knowing that God would listen to their cries.
Listen to my words, O LORD, and hear my sighs.
Listen to my cry for help, my God and king!
I pray to you, O LORD; you hear my voice in the morning;
at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer.
The danger of death was< around me,and the grave set its trap for me.
In my trouble I called to the LORD; I called to my God for help.
In his temple he heard my voice; he listened to my cry for help.
Psalm 18.5, 6
It was you who brought me safely through birth,
and when I was a baby, you kept me safe.
I have relied on you since the day I was born,
and you have always been my God. Do not stay away from me!
Trouble is near, and there is no one to help.
Hear me, LORD, when I call to you! Be merciful and answer me!
When you said, “Come worship me,” I answered, “I will come, Lord.”
Don’t hide yourself from me!
Don’t be angry with me; don’t turn your servant away.
You have been my help; don’t leave me, don’t abandon me, O God, my savior.
My father and mother may abandon me, but the LORD will take care of me.
I am surrounded by many troubles –too many to count!
My sins have caught up with me, and I can no longer see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,and I have lost my courage.
Save me, LORD! Help me now!
As for me, I will pray to you, LORD;
answer me, God, at a time you choose.
Answer me because of your great love,
because you keep your promise to save.
Save me from sinking in the mud;
keep me safe from my enemies,
safe from the deep water.
Don’t let the flood come over me;
don’t let me drown in the depths
or sink into the grave.
Answer me, LORD,
in the goodness of your constant love;
in your great compassion turn to me!
Don’t hide yourself from your servant;
I am in great trouble – answer me now!
Come to me and save me;
rescue me from my enemies.
Listen to me, LORD, and answer me, for I am helpless and weak.
Save me from death, because I am loyal to you;
save me, for I am your servant and I trust in you.
You are my God, so be merciful to me; I pray to you all day long.
Make your servant glad, O Lord, because my prayers go up to you.
You are good to us and forgiving, full of constant love for all who pray to you.
Listen, LORD, to my prayer; hear my cries for help.
I call to you in times of trouble, because you answer my prayers.
Reading from the New Testament
A Woman who was in need of healing literally reached out and approached Jesus for help.
There was a woman who had suffered terribly from severe bleeding for twelve years, even though she had been treated by many doctors. She had spent all her money, but instead of getting better she got worse all the time. She had heard about Jesus, so she came in the crowd behind him, saying to herself, “If I just touch his clothes, I will get well.”
She touched his cloak, and her bleeding stopped at once; and she had the feeling inside herself that she was healed of her trouble. At once Jesus knew that power had gone out of him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
His disciples answered, “You see how the people are crowding you; why do you ask who touched you?”
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. The woman realized what had happened to her, so she came, trembling with fear, knelt at his feet, and told him the whole truth. Jesus said to her, “My daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your trouble.”
When in need of help, know that you can approach the throne of God.
Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God – Jesus the Son of God. Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.
Thoughts for Reflection
What keeps me from reaching out to ask for help?
What makes it difficult to trust that God will answer my cry for help?
What makes it difficult to believe that people would like to help me?
What sadness, if any, keeps me from engaging life?
Am I willing to believe that God can renew my sense of hope?
Good God, I am, at times, frightened to reach out for help. I am reluctant to take the risk of being hurt again. I had such dreams, such great expectations, and now many of them are only dust. Sometimes I wonder, “Why should I try again?” I fear getting hurt. Will you help me? I am not even sure how to ask for your help.
Make me willing to take the first step toward trusting you and others again. Will you help me see what I have to be grateful for? Will you help me begin to let go of this resentment which weighs so heavily on my heart? Thank you for listening. Amen.