Sunday, January 5, 2014

Grace Comes In Many Ways

Grace comes unbidden in so many ways.  It can come as a gift or unexpected part we are asked to play.  Grace can also come to us through pain and struggle. Some years ago I was called to conduct a funeral for a teenager who had killed himself.  I don’t need to tell some of you here that this is an unimaginable pain.  

Where could we go after the death of a child?  Where do any of us go, where do you go my dear people, when someone you love is gone?  When life deals you a blow beyond words?  

More than two hundred people filled the church.  Friends of the family but more importantly friends of the boy; boys and girls themselves who were suffering the pangs of adolescence. I had told the family that the only way I knew to deal with this was to be open about what had happened, to be honest about the agony of his life and then allow for healing to occur.  His mother agreed but his father was not willing.  He was angry, hurt and afraid.  I threatened not to come.

As the mourners filed in I watched for the father.  I knew that he and his son had deep struggles.  I knew that the father blamed himself in part for his son’s suicide.  We waited.  The congregation was restless.  Finally, the mother said we would have to start without him.  The service lasted over two hours, it’s not so important what I said, although I did speak the truth of his death and the struggle he and his family had gone through.  I did remind everyone that this is an invitation for healing and dialogue.  As the mourners came up one after another, I noticed that the father had slipped into the back of the church.  Other parents, relatives and his friends began talking about what this boy had meant to them, how he was gentle, and kind and helpful and sensitive.  They talked about his smile and his laugh and about all those attributes that made his life such a gift.  Some told funny stories, we all managed to laugh in the midst of this tragedy.  And then his best friend got up.  He stood there for a few minutes, tears streaming down his face.  He spoke of his friend’s love for him and for his family.  He spoke of his struggle with his father, but also about how much he loved and admired his father. 

As the friend sat down, I noticed the father coming forward to speak.  He moved slowly and painfully.  He climbed the steps into the chancel and stood behind the pulpit.  I stood up to be beside him.  The silence was profound.  He spoke almost in a whisper about how sorry he was for pushing his son so far from him.  He apologized to his family and his wife for his part in this tragic struggle.  He said he hadn’t realized the man his son was becoming, and now he could see.  He was blind and now he could see.  And then he started to sob.  I held him there in front of two hundred people as the grief opened its mighty iron gates.  All his own pain from his father’s struggle, and his father before him. Generations of pain, flooded out of this one man.  After he sat down, I spoke about grace.  I said that this boy had not died in vain, we were all being invited to change our world, our relationships, our very way of being here today, right now.  I have used that language of invitation in every memorial service I have ever done since then.  In memory of that boy and his father.

With Grace and Grit, John