Can you think of a time that you had an unexpectedly deep conversation with a stranger? Pastoral encounters and challenges can happen at all sorts of times, hey.
Recently, a lady-tradie was helping me fix my home. One day, we were working alongside each other for quite a while, and she and I got talking. Eventually, she shared with me the pain she has suffered since her dad abandoned her and her mum. He suddenly left her when she was only a toddler, after being her stay-at-home parent while her mum worked. She went on to share that he also repeated the injury every time he promised to pick her up from school or visit her on the weekends but failed to show up. She described how she would be waiting, unsettled, heart-aching for her beloved Dad to come see her and how it would hurt her so deeply when he wouldn’t come. She shared that she still loves him but that she’s had a lot of anger throughout her life. She has been plagued with fear, hurt and confusion and worried that there was something wrong with her that caused him to leave.
I breathed in deeply and said a silent prayer to God, asking for guidance on what to say.
At this time in my life, I have 2 little daughters aged 7 and 2 and my thoughts drifted to them because I know my daughters’ hearts and minds intimately. “Nothing!” I said to her quite adamantly. “There was nothing wrong with you. You were a toddler who loved her daddy. To go through such an intense shock and loss at such a tender age has rightly hurt you for life. I can only relate by imagining how my little daughters would be affected if that happened to them. It would be like someone had stolen half of their soul.”
“You have God-given dignity that is woven into your heart,” I said. “I can see how soft-hearted you are. I can see how hurt you are.” I gave her encouragement about how noble values are helpful as lighthouses, anchors and goal posts. I suggested that perhaps she may become a mum of a little girl herself one day soon in the next season of her life and it will be time for her and her partner to build a new story of love, commitment, hope, joy and safety for each other and their future little ones. Finally, I encouraged her to cultivate a prayer life and a faith in God. She wrote to me later to say this was a monumental, life-changing encounter for her. I believe it was the Holy Spirit who softened both of us and drew us closer to Him in this conversation.
In the Gospels there are many stories of people afflicted by pain, isolation and oppression. It seems to me, Jesus meets these people with soft eyes that look into the heart of the person as well as into the whole story of their society. He heals their broken hearts, breaks their chains and he challenges society to lift up the poor, the oppressed, the weak and the downtrodden. He loves them. He sees them. The cries of the broken-hearted are very near to Jesus’s ears and his eyes swell with tears.
He wants us to see them and love them like He does. He doesn’t want us to judge their pain, weakness, poverty or tiredness as stumbling blocks to His heart. Instead, Jesus flips our natural tendencies upside-down and calls us to count their sorrows and suffering as deeper cups to be filled with his glory, grace, light and love. Those who have struggled more, receive Him more and He is our ultimate desire.
Think of Saint Mary Magdalene. She had been possessed by evil and chaos. She had been disgraced, dislocated and destroyed. Yet, in her brokenness, she felt the power of Christ’s healing all the more profoundly. She adored Him. She followed Him. She anointed Him. She mourned Him. She stayed with Him. And Jesus gave her an incredible status as the first person He appeared to after His resurrection and made her the Apostle to the Apostles. Mary Magdalene’s suffering meant she felt His transformative love and grace profoundly and became a unique and outstanding adorer of Our Lord.
What does Jesus want of us? I would like to finish by reading from the Gospel according to John, chapters 13 and 14.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Dear Lord Jesus, please pour out your transformative love and peace into our hearts and lives. We desire to love you, to do your will and be united with you, the Father, the Holy Spirit and all believers. Keep challenging us, Lord, open our eyes to see your gift of dignity in all people and help us to cultivate a holy respect for those who are poor, suffering or struggling in some way. Help us to see our own shortcomings as opportunities to rely on your grace more. Amen.