I have been pastoring a long time now. And while the world has changed a great deal in the last three decades with the result that many of the ways in which my work is accomplished has also changed, something I learned early on through the modeling of others has not changed. And that is the practice of just showing up.
Because, as our Psalm promises today, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” — so where else should we be?
And so it is that I will long remember the woman with ALS who was one of mine to care for when I was still a young pastor. In that small town, her kitchen door always stood open so as to allow her caregivers easy access. Normally, I would stop in when she was alone. By then her disease was advanced and her control of muscle movement was minimal. She could only communicate with her eyes so it was left to me to do whatever talking that would be done. I turned to scripture often then, hoping that she would sense God’s nearness in those promises. As you might imagine, it took everything I had to keep going back for to look such suffering in the face literally brought me to my knees in most every way. Some days I only went because “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…” and so must God’s people be near to the same. I just tried to ‘show up.’
And I recall the night the call came from the emergency room that a toddler had died. He had been sleeping with his mother and had suffocated in the bedclothes. I am certain that nothing I said that night broke through, but I went because “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…” and so must God’s people be near. I could only pray that ‘just showing up’ conveyed God’s presence in some real way.
And there was another late Saturday afternoon when a beautiful young couple from central Africa miscarried their second child. The grieving mama asked me to see the little girl whose development at 4 months was remarkable. I did not want to look. I will forever be glad that I did. They named her a name which means “The Lord goes before her…” We entrusted her to God, seeking to rest in the truth that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…” They had asked for a chaplain as a tangible representation of this truth.
And there was this as well: a recent phone call to a grieving mother who cannot bear to speak of her loss but can’t do anything else. There are no words to reach across the abyss of pain which separates us, but still one calls, hoping that at least she will sense the “nearness of the Lord to the brokenhearted” through the nearness of ‘just showing up’ in words across the phone line.
If our eyes are open at all, we recognize that the brokenhearted walk among us every day. And yet our temptation is often to keep our distance:
- Not believing that anything we do or say will make a difference.
- Or because such suffering hits too close to our own unresolved losses.
- Or because it reminds us of our own vulnerability to the same.
And yet, such suffering cannot be avoided, even if we cannot yet see it in our own neighborhoods. Indeed, the headlines scream of it every day.
In the brokenhearted families who have been separated at our border…
And isn’t the Lord near to them?
In the countless whose innocence and hope and dignity … and … were stolen by those who were entrusted with their spiritual care in recent revelations about the abuse by priests in Pennsylvania and too many other places to name…
Oh, isn’t the Lord be near to them?
In little ones orphaned by war and by those caught in such killing machines who return home forever altered physically, emotionally, spiritually…
Mustn’t the Lord be near to them?
And if the Lord is near, is there any other place you and I would be, should be?
For these brokenhearted are not to be found only in far distant places. They are our neighbors, our family members, our friends. They live around the block, they sit down to eat at the same restaurants, they kneel beside us at the table.
The words of the 34th Psalm remind us that the Lord is there. And what a difference it makes when God’s people simply show up as well.
And truly, where else would we be?
And somehow over time it becomes both easier and harder both to show up where the Lord already is. Easier because we have seen it before and because we have heard later that it mattered that we did. More than that because God is already there making God’s presence known. Harder because it can be exhausting to keep walking into such places of suffering and one can find oneself heartbroken as well. It is then that we recall that the Lord is with us, too. And it is then we are especially grateful for those who show up for us and with us as well as visible reminders of this precious truth…
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…
May we know this to be so…
May we be among those who live like this is so…
Indeed, may we be those who find the courage in this promise to bring ourselves ‘near’ as well.
- Where have you witnessed the ‘brokenhearted’ in your life and ministry? How have you seen or experienced the ‘nearness of God’ in those times?
- I have offered several reasons why we tend to avoid ‘showing up.’ Are there others that you have experienced or seen?
- What does it mean to you to ‘just show up?’ When has someone else ‘just shown up’ for you and with you? How is that a living witness to the ‘nearness of God?’