This past Sunday morning, we celebrated Scouting Sunday at my local church. In addition to one Brownie Girl Scout in uniform, we were joined by the Boy Scout troop sponsored by our church, who led many parts of the worship service. They served as ushers, presented and retired the colors, collected the offering, led prayer, and read scripture. There were a few exciting moments: one of the boys, up front because he was to lead the Call to Worship, neatly caught the American flag as it nearly fell out of its stand immediately after the colors were presented, and the choir director graciously postponed the anthem until after a scripture reading when an over-eager reader began a little too soon. Nevertheless, the congregation seemed to enjoy having the boys present, and most of them did an outstanding job with their tasks – including that over-eager reader!
Ironically, I had spent the previous evening supporting a friend I first met through Girl Scouting over 30 years ago. We had camped together, attended council events together throughout high school, and even served on the resident camp staff together after high school graduation. When the time came for her to get married, she called and asked me to serve as her maid of honor, which I was honored to do, even if the best man DID lose the rings – at least temporarily. (Weddings have exciting moments, as well!) We’ve done our best to keep in touch over the years, mostly through Christmas cards (complete with photos of my three kids and her two daughters) and, in more recent years, Facebook; getting together in person all too rarely.
My friend and her husband have been through some rough patches, including her recent battle with cancer. They have also stayed very busy, establishing three successful businesses, serving on the PTA, and, in the case of my friend’s husband, serving on the school board. Still, they always seemed to take time to enjoy being a family. Just last month, in celebration of her completion of chemo and radiation, the family took a Caribbean cruise. It’s hard to believe that my friend and I are old enough already to have celebrated our 25th wedding anniversaries – a milestone not everyone reaches these days.
Unfortunately, my friend won’t be celebrating any more anniversaries with her husband. You see, Saturday night I attended his funeral. Although my friend and her family are active members of their local United Methodist Church, and although they are part of a large extended family, most of whom live fairly close together, evidently no one caught the signs that some recent problems were becoming overwhelming for my friend’s husband. He took his own life on the morning of Valentine’s Day.
This put the pastor of that local church in a difficult position. Preaching funerals is never easy, but preaching a funeral for someone who committed suicide is one step harder. Pastors should never have to point out to their community that the church is not a place for judging, but the pastor in question did so in a compelling way. In addition to telling the story of my friend’s husband’s faithfulness to his family, his church, and his community, he reminded everyone present that God is the only judge, and that his church is the kind of church that will support my friend and her daughters, calling out in them the very best they can be (and hopefully will be) in the days to come.
I told my friend that I will be in touch in a few weeks, and we can get together for lunch – because sooner or later, other people’s lives will go back to normal, and the crowds of supporters and fellow mourners will be gone. It is right about that time when the grief will settle in, and there will be less help at hand to deal with it. Of course, I have no idea what my friend is feeling. As much as I care, I really do not know how it feels. I still have MY husband. My world has not been turned upside down. I am not left with the question of “Why?” echoing in my mind night after night.
And naturally, because I seem to see everything through a discipleship lens all the time, this whole thing leaves me with an increased sense of urgency about local churches making “real” disciples – people who voluntarily join small groups who will do life with each other, hold each other accountable to their daily practice of spiritual disciplines, and learn to listen deeply to each other – people who know how to ask and answer the question, “How is it with your soul?” Because there are people like my friend and her husband all over, maybe even in my church, or yours.
And somewhere, right now, someone needs a lifeline. They need the kind of connection that you just don’t normally have with co-workers, employees, or fellow members of community service groups. They need people who won’t rush to judgment when rumors or accusations would condemn them falsely. Frankly, they need such people even more when the accusations are true – because don’t we all fall short sometimes? Don’t we all need people who understand that even at our most desperate moments, we are still created in the image of God, and dearly loved, no matter what?
Part of me wants to conclude these rambling thoughts with a statement that if you are the one in need of a lifeline, you should call me, because I will do exactly what I did the night my friend called me to tell me her shocking and tragic news – I will listen, and assure you of my love for you, and promise that we will get through this together. And I would do all of that, to be sure. On the other hand, another part of me realizes that I can’t possibly be that kind of friend for everyone who might happen across these words.
This is just one reason I am so thoroughly convinced that we all need a small group, a “class meeting,” a “covenant group” – a group of other disciples who seek to grow continually in Christlikeness by doing life together and talking intentionally about their faith journey. As it turns out, discipleship matters. Friendship matters. Christian community matters. In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. Thanks be to God!