“I’ve Been Meaning to Ask…Where Does It Hurt?
August 8, 2021
We believe everyone carries hurt and has the capacity to acknowledge the pain of others.
We believe God draws close to us in every moment of suffering.
We commit to vulnerability and compassion.
(theme and questions from Sanctified Art)
I am not sure that I have ever done this before,
but I am not going to address the scripture directly in the sermon today.
Today, we continue our series “I’ve been meaning to ask”, and we ask the question: “Where does it hurt?”
We believe that everyone carries hurt and that everyone has the capacity
to recognize and acknowledge the pain of others.
I invite you today to recognize not only the pain of others, but your own vulnerability as well.
In the midst of the corporate trauma we have faced as a people,
I invite you to commit yourself, once again, to be compassionate toward yourself and your neighbor.
I love watching the Olympics.
Even though this past week will probably be the only time in the next four years
that I will watch a handball game between Spain and Norway,
or watch rhythmic gymnastics or artistic swimming, I still love it.
That artistic swimming is truly impressive, by the way, more so than I had imagined.
One thing I appreciate about Olympic athletes is how exceptional is their talent.
And I appreciate that they are not only exceptionally gifted, they also work very hard in their training.
If you’re an Olympic athlete, you get accustomed to pain. You become familiar with your body hurting.
Whether you are simply sore from a challenging workout
or you are dealing with an inevitable injury, athletes know pain.
Hurt and pain are just part of the process of competing at a high level.
Truth be told, if you’re a human being, whether or not you are an Olympian,
you get accustomed to some measure of pain as well.
You become familiar with your heart hurting.
Whether you are going through a typical month in the life of a community of people
or you are dealing with some traumatic experience, human beings will eventually
know pain and hurt and agony.
We are human creatures. We are fallible beings.
We are susceptible to illness and injury, to viruses and pain, and yes, eventually even to death.
This week’s Conversation Questions circle around the question: Where does it hurt?
The affirmation is that everybody hurts…sometimes.
Do you remember the rock band REM?
Michael Stipe, the leader of the band, was born here in Decatur and attended the University of Georgia.
Ann Downs’ son, Bertis, served as legal counsel for REM for a number of years.
REM had many emotionally powerful songs, but one that has stuck with me all these years
is a song called “Everybody Hurts”.
The song debuted when I was in my 20’s and it spoke to a generation coming of age in the 1980’s.
When the day is long And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough Of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go ‘Cause everybody cries And everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (Hold on, hold on) If you feel like letting go (Hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much Of this life, well hang on ‘Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends Everybody hurts Don’t throw your hand, oh no Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone No, no, no, you are not alone
If you’re on your own in this life The days and nights are long
When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries And everybody hurts sometimes And everybody hurts sometimes
So hold on, hold on Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts No, no, no, no you are not alone
(Conversation question 1)
Friends, we are not alone when facing the challenges of this life.
We are the church and we are here for one another, in good times and hard times.
I invite you to take the next few minutes and speak with your family member or neighbor.
There is a question is on the screen you are invited to share;
other questions to consider are in your bulletin.
What is a fear or anxiety that is weighing on you right now?
I have been reading about trauma lately.
Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.”
However you may have reacted to Simone Biles extracting herself from Olympic competitions,
there is no question that this “greatest gymnast of all time”, who had been a model of excellence
and focus and determination, had quite a traumatic experience in Tokyo.
With worldwide news coverage, we are able to stay connected to what is happening around our country
and around the world. We not only see Olympic athletes in all their glory and yes, in all their agony,
but we also sit in our comfortable dens and see images on our phones or our televisions
of an entire California town engulfed in flames or the tears of family members of a local murder victim.
Human life is good and wonderful and can be so exciting and hopeful.
But human life can also be traumatic.
This continuing pandemic, with all of its anxieties and fears and frustrations,
has been traumatic for so many people, whether because of the isolation or the grief
or the loss of employment or whatever.
While many have only had mild cases, there are far too many who have ended up in the ICU.
Over 620,000 persons now, just in the United States, have died.
Almost 22,000 persons in the state of Georgia have died from the coronavirus.
Just last week, a healthy 42 year old mountain climber, at the peak of physical fitness,
died from the coronavirus. In the months before being hooked up to all kinds of medications
in the ICU, he said that he didn’t want to put that vaccine in his veins.
Just recently, a vaccinated 33 year old mother of two died from a breakthrough case of the coronavirus,
which is disconcerting, to say the least.
My sister has a friend in her congregation who lost five members of her extended family,
five, all of different ages.
Losing just one family member, especially a spouse,
can be one of saddest, most traumatic events in any person’s life.
When such losses happen, they impact the whole community.
Traumatic experiences and loss have become a regular part of our daily life over the past year and a half.
The pandemic exacerbated everything that was already difficult.
Mental illness has been more evident as of late.
I have not seen the statistics, but separations and divorce seem to be on the rise.
Within this congregation, we have had three couples – at least – separate during the past year,
and that’s painful for all of us.
Churches know how to do funerals and baptisms and weddings. We don’t do divorces well.
We don’t have a regular liturgy or special service for that. Perhaps we should.
Over the past year, many persons of color have faced multiple traumatic situations.
Not only has the coronavirus hit the populations of color the hardest,
the past year’s racial reckoning was a traumatic experience for many.
Those who were lonely prior to the pandemic experienced deeper loneliness.
Those who were experiencing divisions in their families or in their churches over things like politics
felt those divisions deepen.
Young people who were already a bit lost in their lives and career directions
found themselves even more lost than they were before the disruptions.
Parents who were struggling with their children’s health conditions or their education needs
have been through unimaginable concern and anxiety over the past year.
In the church, it is part of our sacred duty to care for those who are experiencing trauma.
It is part of our sacred duty to comfort and offer hope, and to seek to do so faithfully, sensitively,
without making things any worse.
Trauma can become an instructor or an instigator of something new.
As one pastoral counselor claimed:
“Ask anyone the times they grew the most, and nearly all will point to a season of great loss or pain.
Traumatic events are not only times of need,” he claims,
“but also opportunities to know God more deeply.” (Drew Dyck, Building Church Leaders)
If truth be told, to be honest, we have had a bit more “opportunity to grow” lately than I would like.
Most of you are aware that this congregation is grieving.
Just last month, sixteen year old SarahBeth Lindsay’s death came as a shock to us;
SarahBeth was the third young person related to this congregation who died in the past four years.
Kelli McMahon, a compassionate and thoughtful young woman, 28 years old,
who lived to serve others and help others, died from a terminal illness of spirit in 2018.
Bryson Ellis, a vital young man with a bright future, died in February of 2019,
during his senior year of high school, on a Wednesday afternoon when he had plans
to go to dinner with friends that evening.
All three of these young people had been involved in our children’s or youth ministries;
they had been loved and cared for by this congregation.
Almost two weeks ago, we received the news of Jap Keith’s death.
Jap, a beloved former pastor of this church, had been more ill than any of us realized,
and the news of his death, even at age 84, came as a shock.
Then came the news of Carolyn Brooks.
If you were to place a picture next to the definition of “saint” in any dictionary,
Carolyn’s picture would do just fine.
Two weeks ago, Carolyn was sitting in the pew with her family,
determining the next way that she was going to help someone, as she often did.
This afternoon, Alex and I will officiate at her graveside service with her family.
Where does it hurt?
It hurts all over. I felt last week like one of those distance runners
who collapse on the track after their race and can barely move their muscles.
This past Monday morning, I was sitting in a chair in my den
and I distinctly remember that it felt like an effort to raise my forearm off the chair.
I was grieving…and grief needs space. Grief takes time. Grief requires significant energy.
I didn’t even play in my soccer game last Monday evening.
For those of you who know me, that’s kind of a big deal.
It is not uncommon for me to miss a game because of a church meeting,
but it is very uncommon for me to miss a game and stay home just because….
Laura and Dan, Clark and Allison,
we are so glad to be baptizing these babies this morning!
Squirming children at the baptismal font bring hope and light in the midst of this traumatic time.
The preschool parents could not have known how glad I was on Friday evening
to welcome them and their children back to DPCC, back to our preschool.
We are following strict protocols and we pray that all will remain healthy and well.
And we are hopeful, because the sounds of children in our hallways and on the playground
are a welcome respite from this pandemic time of quiet and quarantine.
This past week, Alex Rodgers was talking about the both/and nature of grief.
Grief is both a time of great sorrow and an opportunity to know the sustenance of God more deeply.
Grief is both a time of realizing our deep dependence upon God’s grace
and a time to grow more strong within ourselves.
When I think of Carolyn Brooks and Roy Vandiver and Naomi Bell and Jap Keith,
when I think of Kelli McMahon and Bryson Ellis and SarahBeth Lindsay,
I experience both joy and sorrow, both grief and gratitude,
both smiles with laughter and tears with pain.
Memories of good times are helpful.
Pictures of those whom we have lost are helpful.
Telling stories about those whom we have loved are helpful.
And taking good care of ourselves along the way is critical.
Just like an Olympic athlete must care for their bodies with good food and good rest after a workout,
so must we take good care of our fallible, earthly bodies as we seek to care for others.
If you and I are going to be of any comfort or support to our families or our friends or our neighbors,
we must remember to take good care of ourselves as well.
Even when life has been traumatic, we do have some agency about what we do in the next hour.
Even when life seems out of control, we are able to do some good things for ourselves.
Even on those days when it feels like a big effort just to raise your forearm off the chair,
perhaps we can all learn to stop and just be for a while,
to rest and give space for grief, for healing from trauma.
Sometimes, people seek to push grief away, or ignore it, or act as if it’s not really there.
The thing is – grief does not just go away. It will demand its time one way or another.
You might as well give grief some time to work on you on your own terms,
or else it will show up in ways and means that you cannot fully control.
Consider this. We human beings, in order to be well, need to sleep approximately one third of our lives.
Think about that.
Eight hours per night is a good rule for sleeping. Some need more sleep; others need less.
In general, most of us need about eight hours per night, which is one third of our day.
You and I need to sleep for about one third of the rest of our lives!
What else do you need to do to be well, to be strong, to be available for those who need you?
One thing that is helpful for me, in addition to regular exercise, is to gather here with you, in this place,
to sing songs of praise, to offer prayers to God, to be guided by scripture and inspired by holy anthems.
Worship of God – with others – strengthens me, enables me, in ways I cannot fully express.
I invite you now to turn again to your neighbor and address this simple question.
(Conversation Question 2)
What is one way you care for yourself daily?
Friends, we have affirmed today that everybody hurts sometimes.
And we affirm once again that God desires to draw close to us in our moments of suffering,
that God desires to heal us and sustain us.
I invite you once again to recognize not only the pain of those around you,
but your own vulnerabilities as well.
In the midst of this corporate trauma we continue to face as a people,
I invite you to have compassion for yourself as well as for your neighbor.
Our anthem for today is “Breathe On Me, Breath of God”, written by Edwin Hatch.
Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God, until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will, to do or to endure.
Breathe on me, breath of God, till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, breath of God, so I shall never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.
Breathe on me, breath of God.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church