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