March 01, 2013
I remember the panic that welled up as I took the phone call from Germany. We were meeting in Croatia as an MCC “fraternity” of students working in Eastern Europe. Our leaders were suddenly called home to Germany because their young son had been hit by a car while crossing the street. He was in a coma. They were now calling back to the group of us still together in a hotel in Zagreb. We fully expected the word might be that little Alex had died. I was terrified with not knowing how to respond to such devastating pain. Thankfully, Alex survived. But that frozen-in-fear moment remains riveted in my mind.
Many other moments when clutching fear reared up in the face of pain come quickly to mind: when my brother told me he was gay and we both wept in our confused attempt to understand what this would mean for him and our relationship; when mental illness showed up in our immediate family and I knew I was way out of my depth; when my big heartedness wasn’t enough to hold together a fractured congregation; when mediating between a jaded student and ill-tempered professor landed us all in legal woo woo land….and on and on.
Perhaps it’s weathering decades of finding a way through pain-filled disruptions that makes me more sanguine about facing into them. I am more in touch with my own inability to manage all contingencies and apply quick fixes. I wonder less about why this painful event has occurred and more about where God’s reconciling grace might show up within it.
This week I’m in the midst of yet another excruciatingly painful relational upheaval. My problem solving propensity is working in overdrive. Every discerning, prayer-filled, spiritual muscle is being exercised. And yet I often find myself with hands extended outward and upward—letting go.
Whether the painful place is a personal family matter, a church conflict, on the job maliciousness, violent outbursts, or whether it is denomination-wide heart break over seemingly irreconcilable differences—we find ourselves in places of immense suffering. Is it too much to say in faith—this is where we are, in the providence of God?
I wonder if practicing reconciliation means standing in those places where we are stretched apart as if on a cross. I’ve never been one to appreciate macabre cross scenes. But as I reflect on the most acutely painful attempts at reconciliation I’ve been involved in, no other image serves as well.
What does it mean to be stretched to the breaking point in order to hold together in a wide embrace those who hatefully accuse each other? What does it mean to be maligned because you’ve chosen to stand in the middle rather than take sides? What does it mean to hold together within the suffering love of Christ precisely what is threatening to tear us apart?
As persons called to practice reconciliation, we are where we are—in the providence of God. Whether sanguine or not, we move through the fear of pain right into the unbearable fracture—to extend shalom. We embody hope. We don our best negotiating skills. We show compassionate leadership. But we do so with our hands extended outward and upward—letting go. Trusting in the grace-filled providence of God to bring us through.
This blog is hosted by Sara Wenger Shenk. While Sara is president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, she writes as a practical theologian trying to make sense of everyday life—in light of God's reconciling mission in the world.
The views Sara shares here are not the voice of AMBS. As a woman, mother, author, educator, lover of God, Sara is a restless scout—searching out ways that lead toward God’s shalom. She doesn’t assert answers so much as pose questions, test assumptions, resist labels, play with possibilities, experiment with integration, practice wholeness. She hopes this blog will provide a spacious forum for thoughtful discernment around sometimes contentious issues.