Christians have good reason to see the light

I grew up in “snow country," upstate New York. The average annual snowfall was about 27 feet. It was nothing to have 2 or 3 feet of snow in one day.

As you can guess, it would sometimes snow in the month of April. A member of my family was born April 13. My mother remembered the snow drifts being near the tops of telephone poles when she and the baby returned from the hospital. There was even a girl in our church youth group named “April Snow."

That all comes to mind because this year Columbus experienced cold weather and snow after April 20. Like many people, cold spring weather is an occasion for me to become grumpy.

Notice I said the weather is “an occasion for me to be grumpy.” The weather does not actually make me grumpy. I choose the bitter attitude; the weather has nothing to do with souring my soul.

I spent part of April making sarcastic remarks: “Well, there’s nothing like having November in April.”

When I woke up on April 21, there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground. it was a cold spring morning. It felt like a beginning-of-winter morning. I drove over to the church for a Bible study group that meets on most Wednesdays.

As the other participants arrived for the Bible study, I started making my favorite cynical remarks about the weather. I remembered my father’s words about the weather in my hometown: “We have two months of summer and 10 months of hard sledding.”

As we took our seats, the mood began to change. One of the men said something like: “Watching the sun’s rays gleam on the fresh snow was absolutely beautiful, this morning.”

Then other men added to this word of praise. “Oh yes. It was such a beautiful drive over here. It is such a pleasure to see the blessings of creation. The snow and the sunshine are so lovely today.”

The positive words of those men gave me pause. I stopped to think of the times when I chose to see the negative side of things when I could just as easily focus on the positive. The words of praise and the capacity to see God’s creative hand, even in foul weather, made me monitor my mood.

This experience brought to mind a nursing home/hospital I used to visit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a long-term care facility for people who lived in poverty. I took turns with other area clergy leading a little chapel service one day each month.

I remember one day when I was to lead that little worship service. I was running late. I had been caught up in bad traffic. The day was hot, humid, and had not been going well. I drove into the hospital parking lot angry at the heat and all those bad Pittsburgh drivers.

The Kane Hospital was government funded and housed many people who were in very fragile condition. Many of the residents were immobilized by disease. Half the congregation, on any given Wednesday, were in wheelchairs.

As I mentioned above, I was in a very sour mood because of heat, humidity, and challenging traffic. But my mood began to change during the singing of the gospel songs and hymns in that service. Someone always volunteered to play the little piano in the corner of the chapel. We always sang a number of songs during that service.

I noticed a woman I had seen before. She was paralyzed and wore a permanent neck brace. The only parts of her body that moved were her arms and her head. As we sang the songs of praise that afternoon, I suddenly noticed that paralyzed, obviously hurting, woman.

She had her arms in the air, praising God. She had tears of love in her eyes. She was singing her heart out. She was in a total rapture of praise. I looked at this woman and then I looked at myself. With the only moving body parts she had left, she was turning toward the face of God.

I was ashamed. She had no logical reason to be praising God and smiling. Yet, she praised and she smiled. She did this with tears of love in her eyes. Her body was broken, but her heart was happy.

I was rightfully ashamed of myself. I was able to move about freely. I had driven to that nursing home/hospital in my own car.

I suddenly knew the truth. I was spoiled. I was spoiled by good fortune and good health.

Luckily, I did not only feel ashamed. I had indeed learned a valuable lesson. I had learned from a broken woman, a woman who lived her life in pain and frustration, to count my blessings.

It’s okay to feel ashamed every once in a while. It’s okay to experience a “reality check”. It’s good to stop and re-evaluate the moods that we choose. I am often reminded of what holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl once said, "The last of all human freedoms is a person’s ability to choose his/her attitude in any given set of circumstances."

Frankl was sent to a death camp by the Nazi government. All of his immediate family (wife and parents) were exterminated in death camps. He lost his family and his career.

Yet, Frankl chose to live a life of gratitude and appreciation. He chose to see the meaning and purpose of life.

I feel shame when I think of Frankl and the paralyzed woman who sang heartfelt praises to God. But in a world where we are told that shame and guilt are counter productive, I think it’s okay to feel some guilt and to have an occasional feeling of shame. It’s okay to say “I made a mistake” as long as you realize that YOU ARE NOT "a mistake."

My Wednesday morning Bible study group reminded me on a snowy, cold morning in April that we can always count our blessings.

As someone said years ago: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

Folk singer Leonard Cohen looked at all the broken places in life and he made this observation: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

As people of faith, we can certainly complain and lament the tragedies and pains of life.

Many of the Psalms are Psalms of lament, such as Psalm 13. But we also have good reason to see the light and to offer thanks for the good things. Psalms like “The 23rd” demonstrate the possibility of praise in foreboding, dark experiences.

There is no shame in being ashamed of ourselves. But there is also no shame in seeing the light that shines in the darkness of this world.

As people of faith, we have the gift of being able to reach beyond ourselves toward the face of God, the face of hope.

Pastor Larry Isbell is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Columbus. He can reached at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].