Monday, January 4, 2010

Bringing Down the Wall

This was the week when God brought down a wall. It all started ten years ago. She had been the caregiver for his wife, and there was the constant strain and struggle as his wife's health and mind were rapidly unraveling. His family lived many hours away. Though it was hard for them to be such a distance away, to be unable to pick up and move, the caregiver began to build a grudge, that nagged at her- she felt she shouldered the load, and that she was better to his wife than anyone else. After all she cleaned her up, watched as the pureed food came right back, dealt with the many ways and times that a body failed to function as it once had. And the grudge grew.
But so did her love for the man. They shared so much together in this small and confining world. After his wife died, the man was lonely- he turned to the woman he knew now so well. The caregiver and the husband married.
Maybe it was too soon. Maybe the family was still too deep in grief, magnified by the fact they knew they could not be as present and involved in the last weeks of their mother's life. As it had gotten closer to the wife's death the grudge had grown in both directions. In fact it was now a wall.
Maybe things were said and things were done. Maybe perceptions got the best of them. Maybe there was a whole lot more emotion then that we cannot see today. But while some of the memories dissipated, the wall of the grudge still loomed large.
And the wall was well tended.
But when the marriage of the caregiver and the man happened, his family didn't come. Now the wall was fortified by allegations of bad behavior and arguments over money and property and who cared more.
And the wall became a fortress, well defended. Any effort to change the way things were was met with defensive moves and threats. Eventually the man's daughter, now older and wiser, saw that this way of living was starving out her relationship with her father.
But nothing changed until the man became ill, and the illness got worse, and more complicated. The caregiver/wife knew in her heart it was wrong to keep the man and daughter apart. But every time she thought about it, all those hurts of the past came hurtling down. She got mad all over again, for herself and for him.
The only conversation she could imagine was one that gave the chance she had never had to speak her mind and have the last word, to exact her pound of flesh and vengeance first.
But then the man became gravely ill and suddenly all that fortress living felt like isolation and solitary confinement. Now which was more important, honor or tying up loose ends?
Was forgiveness possible? She knew his daughter should see him, just in case, God forbid...
How much we want forgiveness for ourselves. How hard it is to forgive others. How much we desire that God loves us enough to forgive us, but can we see that God loves others that much too? If it was up to us, we know how the story would end. We can't love enough to forgive through the pain.
She always loved the Lord's Prayer and she knew the part about "forgive us our sins." And the second part about "as we forgive others" though she admitted that she might race through that part a little faster.
But what about those words that come next? "Lead us not into temptation"? How do we hear those words if the temptation is the temptation to not forgive, to hold that grudge, to keep building that wall and defending that fortress? And what if the thing we need forgiven for is our inability to forgive?
As we talked about this, and about God's will to be done, our prayer become one of asking God to change her heart so that she could do what God would want. By herself, she could not. With God, for God, maybe, just maybe...
She took the hard step of calling the daughter, who said she would come. It wasn't easy and in fact she did not hold her tongue like she promised, but still, it was a step.
She wanted the daughter to come to the church, but since her husband could not travel, she had to take a harder step- to invite the daughter into her home.
In the couple of days that passed, she ranted, and railed, and cried and wanted so desperately to recant the whole thing. Temptation again.
The day came and the daughter was coming after lunch. But that morning her husband fell and she could not move him. He was not injured, but was stuck on the floor. She called the church with two thoughts- help me and "this means the daughter cannot come."
We got the man up and into a chair, we prayed and said thanks for it. And instead of temptation to call the whole thing off, talked about how this made it even more important.
And the daughter came, and the man smiled the most beautiful electric smile. And they held hands. He in his recliner, and her on the floor next to him, holding hands and smiling through tears. For a moment, he was not elderly and frail and she was not middle aged. It could have been her as a little girl with her Dad. Words were not really necessary between them and the wall began to melt.
We shared communion. God's message of love, forgiveness and community. With a cross on the table in our midst.
Then the caregiver/wife/now caregiver again announced she needed to speak- she had something she needed to say. Silence. What would it be? Would the warmth of the moment end? I stroked her on the back, and said a silent prayer. She began to say that she was hurt by three events, which she listed. Silent pause. Then she drew a deep breath and said that those things were in the past and she forgave the daughter and her family. With tears and a visible combination of relief and amazement that came across her. And big chunks of the wall came crashing down. Then the daughter said thanks and acknowledged that perhaps things were misunderstood, but it was never her intention to hurt the woman and she was sorry for whatever pain there had been. More tears and relief.And the last of the rubble of the wall was cleared away.
And in the midst of the room with the cross in the middle, the work of the cross was accomplished once more. Now people could see the path between them, that they wanted and needed. While there are still potholes to repair and cleanup work to do, the way is clear for them to share what they have been missing before it is too late.
It takes more work to defend the wall, but it takes greater energy to risk believing it isn't needed. To trust in something bigger, in someone bigger.
To let go of the temptation to do otherwise.
A sacred moment happened that will stay with each of us for the rest of our lives.
I read recently a New Year's message about resolutions. The author talked about how resolutions are things we make in faith, or at least hope. He wrote that Christ's incarnation was God making a leap of faith into our world and asked if we were ready to make a leap of faith toward someone else? This is exactly what the caregiver did. Is there a wall that you are tending? A road between you and someone else that is closed off? If so, may you bring that situation to God in prayer, prayer that God might make the path clear, might give you the strength to begin to take the steps, might give you persistence for the journey, and might lead you away from the temptation to do otherwise.

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