In my car, fighting the cross-town traffic, I prayed. “Oh God, help me to know what to do and what to say. Help me to know how to be. Help me to bring you into the room.” I had a keen sense of my lack of experience and my need for help in that moment. “Help me, God, to be there for Sarah.”
Sarah is an 8th grader in my Youth Group. Yesterday morning, her mother came home from working at night to find Sarah’s dad lying dead in bed. He was 48.
Sunday night at Youth Group, we watched Star Wars (the real first one) and had a discussion about how we find strength to do things that we cannot do by ourselves. We reflected on Luke and the moment when he pushed the targeting computer aside and let the Force move through him. How does Sarah find the strength to deal with the shocking death of her father, a man who wouldn’t tell his family that he was ill? How does Sarah find strength to accept her own strange feelings of relief, because this father was a difficult figure in her life?
My kids have troubles along the lines of “Shall I play in the advanced wind ensemble, or shall I take the lead in the school play?” Even for that they need to call on the Force who will be always with us, if only we will turn to God.
When I left Sarah’s house, chaotic and teeming with people (she is one of 7 children), it was to go to the hospital to a deathbed. A smaller, more restrained family gathered around a much older father, dying of cancer, struggling to breathe as his lungs have filled with fluid. I spoke of God’s arms, reaching out to embrace him, and the dying man spread his arms wide in response. He joined in prayer, arms still outspread to bring everyone in the room into holding hands, words garbled by the oxygen mask.
An evangelical son, worried that his father had not uttered the “correct” words about Jesus, sent his wife after me to ask the question, “Did you hear or see anything that indicated to you that he will go to heaven?” I felt my heart leap in my chest, and said, “Oh, yes. Didn’t you see his arms, stretched out to meet God’s?”
There’s nothing in a textbook that prepares us for these moments in ministry. All we can do is use the Force.