It’s time to groan.
This is the beginning of that time of year when people will engage in all sorts of groaning: from the involuntary groans that come from gorging at the Thanksgiving table, to the children’s groaning as teachers buckle down with lesson plans and exams to finish the semester, to the more serious groans I seem to notice each year as the holiday season kicks off.
That last part is a real thing. Let’s be honest, the holidays can be a time of great pain. For some, this season exposes the loneliness that is masked by a frenzied pace at work. Others will taste the ache of spending the holidays without a dear loved one for the first time. And still others are gearing up because traveling “home” means diving back into the dysfunction which has caused so much pain in the past.
Here at Community Outreach Ministries, we know what it’s like to groan, to walk with people in times of great uncertainty and pain. Just this week, we’ve had several opportunities to hear and share the groaning of others. I think of texting back and forth with a dear friend we have been serving, who is spending the week before Thanksgiving at his father’s bedside in hospice, in the final days of his life. I think of a phone call yesterday, listening and consulting with a small business leader who learned several of his employees are facing a moral and spiritual crisis. Or praying this week with two different friends who will have to navigate this season for the first time after divorce has shattered their dreams of what family was supposed to be.
Whatever you or those you care about might groan over in the coming weeks, I firmly believe there is still a powerful reason for hope. In one of the men’s groups I am a part of, we looked at a story which reveals the hope that can come in times of struggle and pain—from the findings of Dr. Henry Beecher of Harvard Medical School, who made a fascinating discovery studying the reactions of men wounded taking the beachhead in the World War II battle of Anzio:
Only one in four soldiers with serious injuries (fractures, amputations…) asked for morphine, though it was freely available. They simply did not need help with the pain, and indeed many of them denied feeling pain at all. Beecher…contrasted the soldiers’ reactions to what he had seen in private practice, where 80 percent of patients recovering from surgical wounds begged for morphine or other narcotics (from The True Measure of a Man, p. 51).
The striking difference in these patients reveals that the experience of pain is entirely transformed when wounds carry a “sense of meaning.” Now, how can this help us, whether we are ministering to people through the efforts of COM, or just dealing with the normal groaning that accompanies life?
The hope we at COM get to share in the community every day is this: with God, pain actually has a purpose—God is not only working to end the pains that exist in this world, even before then, God provides purpose and meaning for the pains we suffer now. Consider these two passages:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22).
When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world (John 16:21).
Every human being at some time or another will experience indescribable pain. But, the resurrection of Jesus is God’s promise that for those who give their lives to him, our pains are not arbitrary or hopeless. According to Jesus, they are labor pains—which means, in the hands of God, whatever suffering we face, God uses to produce life that did not exist before. Like those soldiers in the doctor’s study, we can endure any wounds when there is a sense of meaning, mission and purpose in them.
That reminds me of another highlight from this month: a friend of mine, “Paul,” went through extraordinary suffering and pain several years ago, in his work and his family. They got through it to the other side, and just a few days ago I got to see him share his wisdom and inspiration with men in one of our ministries at COM. I literally watched the overwhelming gratitude and hope on his face as he shared his life and gifts with people we care so much about. That’s what our God does, produce life from the pains we all face.
So, this holiday season, yes, we will groan. But we also will shout—we will declare our fixed and firm conviction that, in the hands of God, dead things don’t stay dead and hope always wins out in the end.
Thank all of you who support us for making moments like this for Paul and countless others possible.
-Dean Barham, Community Chaplain
PS: help us hit our goal this year of 1000 people joining Club 60—with a simple $5 donation each month, although you won’t miss it, you will enable us to provide a consistent presence with those who need it throughout the year. To check it out, click here.
Community Outreach Ministries is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that helps some people in times of death and walks with others to fully live life. We are only able to do this through the generous support of our friends who partner with us in this ministry. If you would like to join us in making this work possible, please click here. You can make a difference.