Of late, not only in my ministry work, but through the connections of social media, I have been highly conscious of the processions of sorrow that go on around us in the midst of life. In my work, we are walking near every kind of brokenness and sorrow in the world every week, then trying hard to stand up and proclaim hope on Sunday.
Brokenness comes in so many different forms, but it all shares one truth–suddenly we are in a room with no walls to keep predators out, no roof to shield us from torrential storms, no floor to stop us from going down. WIth that comes temptation to panic, that we might absolutely burst from the heaviness of it all. It is here that faith matters most if it matters at all.
Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.
The wonderful New Testament scholar George Beasley-Murray once wrote that what the gospel of Mark imparts to us in nine verses, the gospel of John spends five chapters. John 13-17 is the home of some of the richest, most direct and powerful sayings of Jesus. It is called by scholars, “The Farewell Discourse.” Words from a dying man to his beloved friends. He says, “I love you,” again and again in many ways. He tells them things that need saying. Death concentrates the mind and focuses life.
My friend Paul Robertson, who is a Chaplain and CPE director in Houston, Texas, told me about a book by Dr. Ira Byock called, The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living. Dr. Byock is a physician specializing in palliative care at Dartmouth Medical Center and a professor of palliative care at the medical school there. Palliative care, if you don’t know the lingo, is about helping people to die with integrity and comfort, easing the journey to death. So it may seem odd that a book that is about dying and making peace with death would have as its subtitle, “A Book About Living.”
He says that these are the “four things” that matter most, and that before we can die, or live for that matter, we must say them to the people who matter to us the most. This is a wonderful book, one I recommend you read. It’s short, beautiful and on target. Here are his four things:
Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
I love you.
Some thoughts from Dr. Byock that spoke to me:
“I’ve learned from my patients and their families about the painful regret that comes from not speaking these most basic feelings. Again and again, I’ve witnessed the value of stating the obvious. When you love someone, it is never too soon to say, “I love you,” or premature to say, “Thank you,” “I forgive you,” or “Will you please forgive me?” When there is nothing of profound importance left unsaid, relationships tend to take on an aspect of celebration, as they should.”
“When you love someone, it is never too soon to say, “I love you,” or premature to say, “Thank you,” “I forgive you,” or “Will you please forgive me?” When there is nothing of profound importance left unsaid, relationships tend to take on an aspect of celebration, as they should.”
“I also encourage them to say good-bye. ..The word good-bye derives from “God be with you,” a blessing that was traditionally given at parting and, in some churches”
During Holy Week, we focus on an intense experience of saying goodbye. Grief is a very perilous and important experience in every way. When we grieve, we don’t get our way. When we fail to grieve, we don’t really live.
This week, liturgically, we start moving toward some plain speaking, gospel wise. Forgiveness is costly. Love wins, death loses, but not without shedding blood and dying. Commitments: simple, plain. Nothing complicated, but not easy. And you need to say some things that seem simple, but are really doors into the rich treasures of the heart.
I need forgiveness.
I know you love me, God.
I love you.
Thank you for what you’ve done.
Here I am.
The extraordinary center of our gospel may well be in 2 Corinthians 5 when Paul says
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Far more of our lives are engaged with these two verses than almost anything else other than eating, sleeping and breathing–reconciling ourselves to life, God, our histories, our destiny, limits, and, finally, one another. “Be reconciled” is a wonderful word for us this week. Simple words.
For more about Ira Byock’s book, click the image below.