He taught me how to sing the lat­est God-song, a praise-song to our God. —Psalm 40 (MSG)

I recall a sea­son of anguish about ten years ago when my life was harsh­ly dis­rupt­ed, send­ing me reel­ing into a down­ward spi­ral of depres­sion and dis­ori­en­ta­tion. From the bot­tom of a dark pit of despair, I recalled these hope-filled words: We can ignore even plea­sure. But pain insists upon being attend­ed to. God whis­pers to us in our plea­sures, speaks in our con­science, but shouts in our pains: it is his mega­phone to rouse a deaf world” (C.S. Lewis). Indeed, what­ev­er hard­ness of heart or hear­ing impair­ment I had pre­vi­ous­ly suf­fered pret­ty much went away dur­ing that time. With plea­sure being a mere mem­o­ry, the unin­vit­ed, unwel­come pain soft­ened my heart and restored my hear­ing. I was all ears. And although I wouldn’t ever send a cor­dial invi­ta­tion to pain to come for anoth­er vis­it, I am grate­ful for the many ways it even­tu­al­ly ush­ered me into deep­er inti­ma­cy with our Lord.

Months lat­er, when hol­low­ness final­ly gave way to heal­ing, I spent some time reflect­ing on what I had learned. Most­ly, I was pleased to con­clude that every­thing I had believed, taught, and preached about the life of faith was true, and it held up when test­ed by fire. With this one excep­tion: my under­stand­ing of the bib­li­cal notion of abun­dant life” was based on the false assump­tion that God’s desire was for me to be hap­py. What I came to real­ize is that abun­dance” is meant to rep­re­sent the entire spec­trum of the human expe­ri­ence. After all, if Jesus came to bring us the full­ness of life, his own life should reflect it. And the life of Jesus ranges from the hor­rors of the cru­ci­fix­ion to the glo­ries of the res­ur­rec­tion. So why should it be any dif­fer­ent for us? Jesus didn’t come to deliv­er us from our human­i­ty and its accom­pa­ny­ing heartaches, but to join us in it all (the good, the bad, the beau­ti­ful and the ugly) and to use it as the raw mate­r­i­al to redeem our lives.

Turns out Pro­fes­sor Pain is a real­ly effec­tive teacher.

As was my pro­fes­sor-pas­tor-father. I learned a lot from him dur­ing the fifty-five years we shared life togeth­er, a lot of things for which I will always be grate­ful. What sur­prised me was what he taught me as he was dying. While his words were expect­ed­ly sparse, his joy was uncom­mon­ly present. He was calm, peace­ful, serene, and per­fect­ly con­tent.” After a life­time of being devot­ed to his Sav­ior, he approached the end of his days ful­ly pre­pared. He was ready. Dur­ing his final hours, we watched and lis­tened as he strad­dled that thin thresh­old between earth and heav­en. It was Eliz­a­beth who had the dis­tinct hon­or of being with him when she heard him talk­ing to some­one on the oth­er side of that thresh­old: I’m Eugene,” he said plain as day. Take me with you.” Con­se­quent­ly, and now more than ever, I believe in the res­ur­rec­tion of the body.” On the final exam of life, that’s the only thing we need to get right.

In the fresh wake of grief fol­low­ing the death of my beloved dad, and out of my desire to expe­ri­ence abun­dant life for myself, I embrace this sea­son of lamen­ta­tion by singing the blues. Requiem is the sound­track of my heart. I pray in D minor. But one day — I know this to be true — I will learn the lat­est God-song, and I will sing the Hal­lelu­jah cho­rus once again.

Grace and peace,
Pas­tor Eric

Excerpt­ed from Let­ters to a Young Con­gre­ga­tion: Nur­tur­ing the Growth of a Faith­ful Church. © 2020 Eric E. Peter­son. Pub­lished by Nav­Press. Used with permission.

Pho­to by Aaron Bur­den on Unsplash

Originally published June 2020

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