26 September 2007

On Not Going It Alone

I had a great time at the St. Michael's Liturgical Conference yesterday. It made for a long day, but it was worth every minute of it. I was on the road by 7:00 a.m., and I didn't get home until 11:00 p.m., but the day was more refreshing than exhausting. The presentations were helpful and thought-provoking. The preaching was outstanding. The food was yummy, so much so that I didn't even mind getting sprayed with Dr. Pepper when I had the misfortune to open a brand new two-liter bottle that had perhaps been too energetically transported from yon to hither. My thanks to the good folks of Redeemer in Fort Wayne for hosting the conference, and for their gracious hospitality.

I'm especially glad that I had the freedom to linger and chat with my brothers in Christ, my dear friends and colleagues, for a truly delightful evening of conversation. Occasions quite like that are too few and far between, but every such opportunity is precious and rewarding. I marvel, actually, at how invigorating it is to chat at length and at ease with a group of brother pastors. One cannot prize or cherish this blessing too highly, I think. For it is surely one of the Lord's richest blessings to have friends and colleagues who will both listen thoughtfully and speak freely to me; who will patiently tolerate my thinking out loud, but also let me know when I'm just flat out wrong; who will call me to repentance without blinking an eye, but just as readily speak the Gospel to me and thereby strengthen and sustain my faith. It is a great comfort to have brothers in Christ who know where they stand, who recognize their own weaknesses and tolerate mine, but who also share the confidence and prize the clarity of the Word of God.

Such friendships and their attendant blessings are not limited to my pastor friends, nor is it necessary for me to leave town for a day to find them. I thank God for the dear friends and faithful colleagues with whom He has blessed me here in South Bend. But I am also grateful for occasions like yesterday, both for the special treat it is to spend time with those I don't get to see very often, and for the reminder it provides of how important it is not to go it alone.

I think that it is partly my personality, and partly due to the fact that I'm a guy, but mostly it is a matter of my sinfulness, that I tend to rely upon myself instead of seeking the comfort and consolation of others. The more beleaguered and burdened I become, the more tempted I am to seclude myself, both physically and mentally, from the community of my family, my friends, my neighbors and fellow Christians. As a pastor, of course I am available for those who need me, but I am less inclined to seek out for myself the aid and assistance that I also need. I'm fortunate to have family, friends and colleagues who don't leave me to go my own way for too long, but who make a point of keeping me "in the loop." Yet, I can't deny that there's a part of me that would escape if I could; that would run away and hide; that would curl up and hibernate in a deep, dark cave, and in all likelihood never arise and emerge to see the light of day again. Not only would that not be right; more pointedly, it is not the way that God has created me, or anyone else, to live. We are rather created for life in relation to the Lord and to one another.

Attempting to go it alone is not only foolish; it is sinful, and it is deadly. By the same token, the community of our fellow Christians, whether brother pastors or brothers and sisters in Christ, is a genuine encouragement. In fact, it seems to me that such fellowship is not simply a means to some other end, but an experience of the very life for which we have been created: to be among the many brethren of whom Christ, the Son of God, is the firstborn.

I've said it before, but I am reminded again of how true and important it is: Electronic communications, written correspondence, phone calls, and all of the other advantages of modern technology are truly wonderous and salutary gifts of our gracious God and Father, but not one of these can replace, nor will any of them ever surpass, the boon and benefit of being in the bodily presence of brothers in Christ, conversing and commiserating as comrades. Speaking face to face really is preferable, wherever possible, and it ought not to wait until reconciliation or repentance is required. We serve one another, and we are well served, when we are actively engaged in the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. It makes it a whole lot harder to be curved in on myself, and far easier to live in faith and love, when I am living in the company of other Christians. Not only because we speak the Word of God to one another; although it is surely true that Christians ought to do that more frequently and forthrightly than we are inclined to do. But there is something godly and salutary, genuine, substantive and significant, about the sincere joy, the unguarded honesty, and the relaxed freedom of such friendships among Christians. It is a way of living by faith in the glorious liberty of the Gospel, and of reveling in the good gifts of God. It is an opportunity to recognize Christ in our neighbor, to be served by Christ through our neighbor, and to serve our neighbor for the sake of Christ Jesus. How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity. It is a proleptic realization of the Church's future and eternal life in the resurrection of the body, which is as sure and certain as the Lord's own Resurrection from the dead.


Cindy R. said...

Thank you for this post, for so many reasons. I too have a personality that inclines me to go it alone. Your words are an encouragement as I struggle to turn outward and upward instead of inward.

I appreciate your touching on vocational themes. I also appreciate your knack for clever phrasing. As a former English major, I take genuine pleasure from reading good writing. The sentence about Dr. Pepper from yon to hither made me laugh.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you, Cindy, for your kind words. I'm very glad when my thinking out loud can be of help and encouragement to others. It is, I suppose, another way of not going it alone, and of not leaving others to go it alone.

One of the things of which I am reminded, when I have been pulled back into the company of family, friends and neighbors, is that I ought to do better about reaching out to others, too, when they are withdrawing into a lonely cave. I suppose it is hard to judge when another person simply needs some down time, some peace and quiet, and when that person reallys needs the persistent attention of another Christian to rescue him or her from the yawning maw of despair.