Shepherd with a Floodlight

It’s been a tough week so far. I have been disturbed by what is going on in Iraq. The violence inflicted on adults and children has kept me awake at night. The spread of the Ebola virus in Africa has been scary to watch as well. It has been heart wrenching to see the young and old dying from this virus. There was also the suicide of Robin Williams. His death reminded me of the reality of the emotional turmoil and depression that so many face.

Today, I was also asked to pray at a brief ceremony for a man who committed suicide on the same day Robin did. It was a very disheartening situation that leaves you literally feeling heavy. I also have been mindful of three spiritual giants in our church that are dealing with failing bodies. All are fighting for hope and their lives. Ministry exposes you to many joys but it also offers you frequent views of the “darkest valley” that the Psalmist mentions in Psalm 23.

On top of all this, it was the first day of school today. We had a good morning. They were jumping off the walls with excitement. (To clarify: Jamie, my wife is a high-school teacher, was not near as excited as the kids) There was a flurry of activity: uniforms were put on, breakfast was inhaled, “first day of school” pictures were taken at home, on the way, and at school. I do enjoy the regularity of the school time routine.

But my little boy began kindergarten today. This means all our children are school age. This brought a mourning today that I did not expect. Jamie and I kissed him goodbye today and slowly exited the premises. I stayed in the shadows of the hallway for a minute and just watched him color as the rest of his classmates settled in around him and took their “first day of school” pictures. Could this be happening? My boy is growing up. I was so proud of him but again that disturbing feeling came over me.

It’s been a hard week.

It’s been hard not just because of what I’m going through, I am doing just fine in the grand scheme of things, but because of the pain that I see others going through around the globe, in my country, in my neighborhood, in my church, and in my family. It’s easy to lose hope.

I ran across a quote from Viktor Frankl a couple of days ago. If you haven’t read his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, let me highly recommend the first part of it. The part where he speaks of his time in Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps during WWII. He speaks a lot in that book of the destructive force of hopelessness that he witnessed every day, as you can painfully imagine.

Frankl writes,

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I love that quote and the fact that I read it this week. Outside stimulus, daily painful toil leading up to death in the case of Frankl, can bring feelings of hopelessness and despair, as you would expect.  But Frankl says that there is a space between this stimulus and what we are going to do with it. We can decide what we will do with such emotions as hopelessness and despair. It seems to me that our response will set our destiny. Will we cower and recoil? Will we look down and lose sight of joy? Will we turn hot with anger? When I read that quote I knew I was meant to read it this week. How will I respond to such a disturbing week, which pales in comparison to what Frankl went through, I thought to myself?

The answer I found was in the familiar Psalm 23 that I read to a grieving family today, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Hope comes when we realize that he is near and the truth is that his presence overwhelms the disturbing, disheartening, painful or evil, with hope. The pain and hurt may still be there but hope can coexist if we choose to address our stimulus with the hope of Gods’ presence. In the presence of God “these three remain: faith, hope and love.” The realization that our shepherd-like God is near lights up the “darkest valley” with a floodlight of hope.

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