Be Hospitable and Share Your Pain
Scripture Reading: Lamentations 3:1-3, 16-33
Delivered: Sunday, February 27, 2011 at Christ United Methodist Church (Lafayette, IN)
3:1I am one who has seen affliction
under the rod of God’s wrath;
2 he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
3 against me alone he turns his hand,
again and again, all day long.
“I am one who has seen affliction.” This opening verse to the third chapter of Lamentations is one I think most of us can relate to. We all have pain. We have all felt distress. We all grieve. In short, we all struggle.
“I am one who has seen affliction.” Nearly six months ago, Chandra and I began an IVF cycle. It was two grueling months of me giving Chandra multiple shots, multiple times a day. The process was, to say the least, taxing on my wife who was bloated and achy all over. In early December we found out that the process had worked. In spite our two year fertility struggles we were finally pregnant. Then as quickly as it all happened, it all came crashing down. Chandra miscarried four weeks later.
“I am one who has seen affliction.” It was a time of immense pain, distress, and grief. We were struggling, not in our relationship with each other, but in trying to understand why this was happening. We told close family and friends. We met with the doctor to “review our file” only to find that there were no answers. More tests were run and still no answers. All that remained was the struggle: the struggle to understand; the struggle to conceive a child.
Good meaning people tried to help. They would say things like “It’s all in God’s hands” or “It’ll happen in God’s time.” But, in all honesty these words offered little help. The struggle remained.
Henri Nouwen, in the book The Wounded Healer, suggests that “the agony of all [persons is their] desperate cry for a human response from [another].” We all want someone or something to be present with us. No one wants to be alone.
A man can keep his sanity and stay alive as long as there is at least one person who is waiting for him. The mind of man can indeed rule his body even when there is little health left. A dying mother can stay alive to see her son before she gives up the struggle, a soldier can prevent his mental and physical disintegration when he knows that his wife and children are waiting for him. But when “nothing and nobody” is waiting, there is no chance to survive in the struggle for life…
But when a man says to his fellow man, “I will not let you go. I am going to be here tomorrow waiting for you and I expect you not to disappoint me,” then tomorrow is no longer an endless dark tunnel. It becomes flesh and blood in the brother who is waiting and for whom he wants to give life one more chance.
As I think back on Chandra’s and my struggle for the past several months, I think Nouwen is right. I just wanted someone to be present with me. I didn’t want anyone to wish, hope or pray my struggle away. I just wanted someone, anyone, to sit beside me.
Too often we replace our presence with words. With the advent of mass communication, this has becoming ever more true. We, myself included, are much more comfortable wishing, hoping, and praying for someone who is struggling. We are not as comfortable being present in the midst of the struggle. We like distance: we don’t want to be too close to the struggle because that might drag us down. True, it might. Being present in the midst of another’s struggle is a risky thing, but it is essential to a struggling person’s survival.
From my experience, the few who were willing to simply be with Chandra and I without judgment or comment were the persons who helped us the most. Indeed, they helped us survive the struggle.
Over the past several weeks you have heard much said about our collective need to be more hospitable: not only to the visitor, but with each other. This morning I’m asking you to broaden your understanding. Hospitality is more than fellowship time, a handshake, even a hug. True, hospitality “is the ability to pay attention to the guest. This is very difficult, since we are preoccupied with our own needs, worries and tensions, which prevent us from [putting aside] ourselves in order to pay attention to others.”
True, genuine hospitality—the kind we are all looking for—moves beyond a handshake and a hug to provide a space where we can share our pain and struggle. True, hospitality says that I (we as the body of Christ) will not abandon you in the midst of your pain, grief, distress and misery. We will stand by your side, carry your burdens, and remind you that
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning
The risk in showing hospitality—the type that is truly open to the struggle and pain of others—(the risk) is the very real possibility that no one will come. We can open ourselves to the pain of others only to find no one willing to come in. And, that’s OK.
Not everyone is willing to open up right away. Some struggles, like Chandra’s and mine, need time to be processed: people need time to grieve. And, it may take a long time. And that’s why we should always be ready. We need to be consistently ready to be hospitable—to offer our presence to those who are struggling not to diminish their struggle, but to remind them of God’s “unending love, amazing grace.”
As I was preparing for this sermon, the first song that came to mind was the old hymn that goes: “When the storms of life are raging stand by me…” This morning as I was getting ready a different song came to mind…
Go forth into the world and be hospitable: “stand by” one another and share in each other’s struggle and pain.
 Lamentations 3:1-3, New Revised Standard Version
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Doubleday: New York, 1972), 63.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Doubleday: New York, 1972), 66-67. Emphasis added.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Doubleday: New York, 1972), 89.
c.f. Galatians 6:2
 Lamentations 3:21-23, New Revised Standard Version