Looking for a Safe Place…

safe place church

When I pastored in rural Kentucky, we lived in the parsonage (a house the church provides for the pastor).  Because this church always wanted to know where to find the pastor, they located the parsonage right next to the church.  Everyone in that rural community knew if I was home, they felt great liberty to call me and tell me someone had left a light on in the church next door.

After three years, my wife and I sensed the time had come to move on.  A church in Louisville had contacted me, expressing interest.  We set a time to meet with them, on the next Sunday evening.

On the appointed Sunday evening, I was finishing tying my tie, when there was a knock at my door.  Opening it, there was a young woman, about 23, wearing jeans and rubber farm boots.

“Are you the preacher?” she asked.  I told her I was.  “I want to kill myself,” she said.

I wish I could tell you my first thought was “You poor woman,” but it actually was “Not now!  I have an interview!”  My pastoral gear did kick in, however, and I invited her in.  Gina and I listened to her story – she worked on one of the dairy farms, her marriage was falling apart, and she felt like there was no hope.

I knew this woman’s troubles were over my head.  I told her we would get her the help she needed.  I called the chair of the committee and explained the situation (if you must cancel a pastor search committee interview, dealing with a suicidal woman is a pretty good excuse).  Gina and I drove the women into Louisville, to the hospital where I had interned as a chaplain.  On the way there, I asked her why she came to our house.  She said, “I figured it was a safe place.”

Mental illness touches one out of five Americans.  Chances are pretty good you know someone who struggles with a mental health issue.  Mental illness can manifest as addiction, depression, anxiety, outbursts of anger, disorientation, and disconnection from reality.  In my years as a pastor, people have sought me out for these issues and more.

Pastors by nature know a little about a lot of things.  We’re generalists.  We are not really equipped to treat people who have mental health issues.  But we can do two important things.

First, we can make sure the churches we serve are places of grace.  We need to make sure people know they can be real about what’s going on in their souls.  When the disorientation of mental illness begins, we want people to know that they can talk about it to spiritually wise people at church.  People with mental illness will not be judged, but loved.  As churches and pastors, let’s pledge to do our best to steer people toward the best care available.

Second, we can pray for God’s peace in souls.  I believe our God heals not just the body, but also thoughts and feelings.  We do not pray enough for healing of troubled souls.  There is a peace that passes all understanding, and God wants to give that to people.  How much time do we spend praying for God’s peace for people?

Our mayor has proclaimed this weekend as the Mental Health Weekend of Faith.  He has shared with me and other pastors this is a growing concern in our community.  We know that ultimately, spiritual power can overcome the evil that robs people of mental health.  This why Jesus’ church must be a place of grace for all; therefore, Jesus’ people must boldly pray for the peace of God to richly dwell in every heart.

A month after that Sunday night, there was again a knock on my door.  When I opened the door, it was the same young woman, with a bright smile on her face.  She told me at the hospital she had gotten some medicine, which she considered a gift from God.  She had talked to some helpful people, who gave her a different perspective.  She found out she loved her life and was making plans to move ahead.  I celebrated with her, prayed with her, and then stood up to say good-bye.  She looked me in the eye, and said, “Thank you for being there, for being a safe place when I needed one.”

Somewhere in our town, someone needs a safe place of grace and a powerful prayer of peace.

Blind…

blind

 

I got my first pair of contacts in the seventh grade.  They were (and still are) the old-fashioned rigid plastic kind.  The optometrist emphasized to me over and over, “These must be kept clean.”  Have you ever seen a twelve-year-old boy keep anything clean?

After a few months of wearing my contacts (and not following Doctor’s orders), I woke one night with an excruciating pain in both eyes.  It felt like someone had ground up glass and poured it under my eyelids.  I was in agony.  As bad as my eyes felt closed, the pain increased a dozen fold if I opened my eyes.

I toughed it out until six the next morning.  I kept my eyes closed, felt my way down the hall, woke my mom, and told her what was happening.  She made a call to Dr. Sera, a family friend, who agreed to see me as soon as the office opened.

I kept my eyes closed as Mom fixed breakfast and had the strange sensation of trying to find my way to the eggs on my plate without seeing them.  Mom had to lead to me to the car and then out of the car to the Doctor’s office.

Dr. Sera put me in a dark room, pried open my eyes, put some dye in them (which increased the pain!) and told me to relax.  Why do Doctors tell you to relax when they have knowingly just increased the pain?

He examined my eyes with his special lenses and rendered the verdict: I had a corneal abrasion.  Lack of cleaning my contacts caused dirt to accumulate.  The contacts had gouged a trench in both eyes.  I was given some drops and told to keep my eyes shut for the next twenty-four hours.

To be blind means you can’t see (thank you Captain Obvious!).  My brothers tried to trip me as I felt my way to the bathroom. I was the object of lots of jokes at dinner. Mostly, I was bored because I could not watch TV or read.  I couldn’t go where I wanted to go.

People have scratches on their souls.  Sometimes they are wounds from history, or even wounds they absorbed from their parents and grandparents.  The scratches cause blindness.  In our pain, we close our eyes to realities that cause us to think uncomfortable, painful thoughts.  In our blindness, we stumble into prejudice, bigotry, self-righteousness, and self-aggrandizement.  No one is born a racist; there is a wound in the past that scratches a soul and causes blindness.  Our blindness as a culture keeps us from going where we want to go.

What’s sad to me is the number of Jesus followers who stay blind.  This is not what Jesus wants for any of us.  The foretelling of his birth included this line: “Rise and shine, behold your light has come!”  Jesus said, “I have come to give sight to the blind” and “I am the light of the world.”

Part of Jesus’s invitation of grace to you is leave your blindness to your blindness.  Let him heal the wounds of your soul.  Let him set you free from the limits of your past.

I’ll never forget what it felt like after twenty-four hours to open my eyes again.  There was no pain.  To paraphrase a classic 60’s song, “I could see clearly now, the pain had gone.”  I kept my contacts clean from then on.

Isn’t it time for you to let Jesus touch your blindness that you are blind to?  Isn’t it time for you to let his light shine on the wounds of your soul?  Isn’t time for your wounds and your blindness to be healed?

He sees you and sees the you he wants you to be.