Posted by: Darrell Johnson | July 20, 2009

facing pain (how to find beauty in a bruise)

“The LORD has sent us to evangelize men. But have you ever reflected on what it is to evangelize men? To evanglize a man is to say to him: ‘you, too, are loved by God in the Lord Jesus.’ And not only to say it to him, but really think it. And not only to think it, but to relate to him in such a way that he senses and discovers that there is something redeemed in him, something greater and nobler that he ever imagined, something that awakens in him a new consciousness of himself (one that is rooted in Christ). That is what it means to announce the Good News. But that becomes possible only by offering him your friendship; a friendship that is real, unselfish, without condescension, full of confidence and profound esteem.”
— Eloi Leclerc

It’s so easy for me to say to someone, “hey, Jesus loves you” and then go about my day without really thinking it. Sounds pretty sad, huh? I mean shouldn’t we be here to serve and to share the Gospel, to evangelize to men/women??? Some things are just easier read/said than thought/done.

The “profound esteem” that Leclerc refers to in the above quote is not self-esteem, but rather that which is a result of surrender, love, and trust in the risen Christ, Jesus the Son of Man.

This past Thursday, my fellow men’s HOPE teammates and I found ourselves at the Belvedere in downtown Louisville to have our weekly “prayer & share” (which is a weekly reflection in which you…well, share and pray. So maybe we should call it ‘share & prayer,’). But anyway…we were heading up to get a nice view of the river, when we came across an attractive young lady being photographed by some dude with a nice camera accompanied by her mother, who had several wardrobes in hand. The young lady was posing and what not for what seemed to be like some portfolio of sorts, maybe she was venturing into modeling or prepping for a pageant. The whole ordeal seemed very much out of the norm and could have posed as a distracting moment for any guys’ small group time. But we pressed on to avoid any further distraction.

While we were walking past the photo shoot, I noticed to my right, in the distance a familiar face. It was Sam, one of our day shelter guests who I’ve gotten to know since the beginning of the Summer. Sam was one of the first people I recognized upon arriving at Jeff St., he’s a rather quiet guy who keeps to himself and is very cordial to all the staff and HOPE team members and he seemed to talk to me whenever he got the chance. Even if we didn’t have anything to really talk about, we would still take time to acknowledge each other’s existence and exchange a polite “hello” and “take care.” I could see myself and Sam as being friends one day outside of Jeff St., but unfortunately that may never come into fruition.

Before we found our seats for prayer & share, we approached Sam to say “hello” and ask how he was doing; but we didn’t really have to ask that question. It was obvious that he had seen better days. I say this because, we found Sam sitting on a bench with a distraught look on his face accompanied with a medium sized bandage over his right eye. There was also some discoloration to Sam’s face, it was obvious that he had been “jumped.” When we asked him what happened, he looked off into the nothingness and with a hopeless sigh he said, “Some guys got me the other night.” He later told us that he had to go to the hospital to get “looked at.” Also, he said that he should have known better to be out on the streets by himself. Our day shelter acquaintance Sam got “jumped” and all he had on him was two dollars and a cell phone (which his attackers took).

We stood around in silence for a moment and then upon asking Sam what was next, he went on to tell us that he was getting on a Greyhound headed for New Mexico. He said that he was tired of Louisville and who can blame him? But he spoke as if he would be back sometime, but for now the demoralization that comes along with being attacked had taken its toll on our bruised friend. In addition to the bruises he had sustained, I noticed that Sam’s right eye was extremely red. But instead of ignoring and turning away from the harsh reality of life on the streets and the hard knocks that come along the way I did not avoid eye contact or share looks of great pity with Sam, instead we all just talked to him as we normally would. We owed him that much, after all I’m sure staring at his bruises and red eye would not help the situation at all.

And though I didn’t stare at his bruises, I couldn’t help but think about the look of defeat in his eyes. He seemed so drained and depleted of any hope; my heart just wanted to weep for the guy. I wanted to take away the pain, but we all know that’s impossible. Only the love and compassion that can only be found in Christ Jesus can take our pain on and give us a reason to keep pressing on. It wasn’t too long before we left Sam, when we did I told him that he’d be in my prayers and I encourage you all to keep him in your prayers if ever you think about it.

After we found our seats I confessed to the guys that I was distracted from our intention to focus on sharing and praying when we came across the young lady being photographed. My mind wandered away and sure enough the Lord reminded me of something ever so important and that is that beauty comes from within. Now I know we’ve all heard this before and it can sometimes be used as a “cop-out,” but I continued to share with my teammates that I recognized more beauty in the brusied face and red eyes of my friend Sam, than I did in the aspiring model whom we first noticed as we were walking on the Belevedere. I knew Sam to some extent, whereas with the pretty face I had no idea who she was. She was just a pretty face, not someone who I looked forward to seeing at the day shelter like Sam.

One of my favorite authors is Henri Nouwen, in his book “Turn My Mourning Into Dancing,” he observed that we can find peace by facing our pain. Whether such pain be physical, emotional, or spiritual; when we refrain from ignoring it and recognize that only the incarante Word of the Lord (John 1:1) can pave the way to peace, our perception of what is and what is not beautiful significantly changes. We find beauty in a bruise as opposed to just a pretty face. We find life anew when we remember that it was Jesus who took on our pain and fulfilled the Isaiahan prophecy of the bruised reed (Isaiah 42:3) and when we surrender ourselves to that truth we find peace.  Pray that such a peace would be sought, recognized, and found.

“When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, these very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.”
— Henri Nouwen

OH LORD, guide us all.

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