Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Consolation and Affliction

During the weeks of Lent I have been more intentional about my prayer life, using what is called a "daily office" (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, see www.missionstclare.com as an example) to form my times of prayerful contemplation. This morning as I concluded the office I spoke these words: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction so that we may able to console those who are in any affliction."

These words are recorded in Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church. I have read them many times in the course of my Christian pilgrimage. Usually I read these words as a reminder of my pastoral commission to console others and to be a Christ-like presence to those who find themselves mired in affliction. But today I have the opportunity to see this a different way, to be the one feeling afflicted, needing the consolation of others. I must admit that it is an unnatural and uncomfortable place for me. I prefer to be the one offering consolation, not receiving it.

This morning one of the people who counts the tithes and offerings for the congregation I serve as pastor stopped me and shared a concern. Over the past several weeks he and the other "counter" have noticed that "loose offerings" (typically cash dropped anonymously in the plate) have been substantially lower than our historical pattern. He was raising it as an issue I needed to be aware of, but I instinctively knew who I needed to talk with.

And so, after school today, my wife interrogated our sixteen-year-old son, who admitted that he has been sneaking into the place where the offerings have been kept between services to take the cash out. He, of course, does not know how much money he has stolen over the past weeks (months?) but I suspect it is in the several hundred dollar range. I am, of course, outraged, humiliated and pained. It is one thing to steal from us at home (and he has done this, too), but to steal from the community of faith, the church where his father is the pastor? I console myself with the knowledge that his IQ is 62 (official classification: mentally retarded), but castigate myself for believing that he was somewhat trustworthy and could be allowed to have some freedom while at the church. His days of freedom are now over, and according to our family policy, he will repay double what he has stolen, which will completely wipe out his savings account, in addition to more money he will have to earn.

That was the first blow. The second began last week but was confirmed this afternoon.

Our church was broken into last Thursday night. A window smashed, an office door compromised, a church safe taken away in a stolen vehicle. As soon as I heard the details, again I knew in my gut who was responsible. Sure enough, this afternoon I received a telephone call from law enforcement asking if I knew the whereabouts of our eighteen-year-old son Mike. Since Mike has not lived with us for over two months (and seldom before that time), and since we have been forced to obtain a harassment order against him for his obscene and threatening phone calls, we do not know where Mike is. One person has already been arrested in this case, and Mike will be the second when he is found. Tomorrow he is scheduled to be in court on one of several felony charges, so perhaps he will show up and be taken into custody once again.

I am feeling the weight of affliction tonight. It is one thing to be afflicted for those things I have brought upon myself. They are unpleasant, but the consequences are deserved. It is harder when the affliction comes from a source not of your own, but yet as a result of choices you have made. I cannot help but wonder how our choice to adopt older kids looks to others in the community and in the church. I mean, it's one thing to have kids who are obnoxious at home or violate parents in their own home, but when it stems to a sacred place like the church -- especially when their father is the pastor -- it's a little much to bear.

I worry, of course, that my credibility has been broached, that my spiritual authority has been compromised, that my word means less when it is my own children violating God's "space." And tonight I am not the one offering consolation to oone who is afflicted, but I am the one afflicted who needs consolation.

What an ironic twist, indeed.


yolie said...

Mr. Bart,
I am so sorry. You guys are in my prayers.

Becky said...

I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
-Edgar Guest, poet (1881-1959)

You're walking with many, though you may never know exactly who.