Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Feeling Memories

People may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel.[1]

This morning my quiet time reading included this passage from Deuteronomy: “For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast, as when you escaped from Egypt in such a hurry” (16:15).  As I read this, I flashed back on a scene from years ago when I helped arrange a “tech talk” and lunch for the doctors at a children’s hospital.  I think we probably brought sandwiches, but I know for sure we also brought salad, because the image that hovers in my memory is the featureless face of the doctor who said to me with disdain in her voice, “There are even croutons in the salad, so we can’t eat any of it.”  I had no idea it was Passover.  I had no idea that Passover meant eating no bread.  “You could have asked,” she added. 
I remember that moment vividly because I felt horrible for having brought what I thought was a wonderful lunch and it felt like she had thrown it on the floor or in my face.  I remember the moment because it was an emotional moment.  And I DO remember what was said, although I only remember the specific words that had the most impact on me.
I wonder if this is why I also remember some verses of the Bible with similar clarity?  I remember the verses that had the most impact on me.

When I was struggling to persevere through a difficult situation, Galatians 6:9 gave me courage:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

When I felt like I was being overwhelmed, Isaiah 43:1-2 brought me tremendous comfort:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
 When you pass through the waters,
   I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
   they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
   you will not be burned;
   the flames will not set you ablaze.

When I felt like I might never find the joy in life again, Zechariah 3:17 gave me hope: 

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
                He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love,
                     he will rejoice over you with singing.

I also found great hope in this passage from Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you
and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

So it makes me sad when people say about this verse from Jeremiah, “You’re taking it out of context.”  When we read through the Bible and a verse jumps out because something about the words suddenly speaks vividly to our present situation, it doesn’t matter so much what the context was in the book of Jeremiah.  The context was the struggle my heart was having at that moment.  The context was that I was pleading with God to give me perspective in the midst of chaos, and to help me have peace and comfort and hope.  I remember those words from Jeremiah because in that moment they were the manna from God that I so desperately needed.

Yes, I know that taking words out of context can be problematic.  And that some have used words out of context like a sword or a club, or as ammunition to win a fight.  When the context is our need to win then context is definitely a problem.

One of the most important things I learned in my brief time as a hospital chaplain[2] is that hope is essential.  It was wonderful when I could help reinforce someone’s hope in Jesus Christ, as that is also the basis for my hope.  But regardless of their beliefs, I had to be careful not to steal their hope.  When someone was in the midst of crisis, this wasn’t the time to knock the supports out from under them by telling them their faith was wrong.  I might silently pray for them to find Jesus, but for the moment I needed to encourage them in their existing belief system.

And if someone were to ask me, “What gives you hope?” Then I could be grateful for the opportunity to tell about my hope, and maybe in hearing about why I follow Jesus, then they would decide to follow him, too.

Words do have impact.  Words can trigger all sorts of emotions.  And we can’t always know what impact we’re going to have.  But we can pray that God would guide us so that our words might be encouraging and build others up, and that we might say only what is useful and good and graceful (Ephesians 4:29).

May your life and your words be filled with grace.


[2] As part of the preparation for becoming a pastor, my denomination requires candidates to take a semester of CPE or clinical pastoral education, which is on-the-job training for being pastoral to people in the midst of crisis.

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