Matt Bays is a writer who really knows what suffering is, who has walked through mess and pain of various kinds. His upcoming book, Finding God in the Ruins – How God Redeems Pain, promises to be a huge help to those walking through suffering, and I’m thrilled to have him here today:
To know ourselves is a gift of wisdom no book, self-help or other, could give us. To know who we were is to know who we are.
“Are you my son?”
“They told me that Matthew was here. So you are Matt…my son?”
“Yes dad, I’m your son.”
“I thought you had more hair.”
“I did. I just shaved it off several years ago.”
“Oh.” And then the realization at how wrong this moment is – that this isn’t a question you ask your child. “I’m so sorry,” he says shaking his head.
“It’s okay,” I tell him. “It’s been a while.”
We were at our family reunion and in this awkward moment I realized that when my father and I had exchanged hugs just one hour earlier, he didn’t know who I was. Perhaps I was a nephew, perhaps one of the in-laws.
At the time I chalked it all up to dementia setting in…I could feel it on him over the weekend. But then I wondered if he had been prescribed too much medication for his weakened heart. I found reasons for the oversight…to make it less painful, but after several days of walking around in a fog, I knew his words had affected me. How could they not have?
There are reasons for everything we’ve done – excuses we’ve all had for our sin, indiscretions and poor character. We’ve all made mistakes, most of which are connected to a reason our past knows all about. My father’s reasons were addiction and abandonment – things I had given him a pardon for long ago. He did the best that he could, given his life circumstances. And as I’ve come to understand my own personal darkness, I no longer wonder what happened…how he could have this or why he didn’t just that. It can happen to anyone, and if we know what’s good for us, we will admit our own indiscretions – acknowledge that we are all broken. Every last one of us.
But just because we understand where our pain comes from and how it has affected us, and even forgiven our offender, does not mean it disappears. This is the problem with self-help, visualization techniques, and daily affirmations; they are not bad per se, but we often try to apply them to deeper issues that will not have a magic wand waved over them.
Something powerful was lost one day, and as much as we’d like for it to be “out of sight, out of mind,” a lost father will never be out of mind. Nor will a rape, a disease, a name we were called, an abuse, or a lost childhood.
The beauty of what a father is wasn’t powerful to me until I was able to acknowledge that without one, something was (and continues to be) terribly wrong. Not because he didn’t teach me to ride a bike or coach my little league team. Not because he would never wrap me up in a towel after bath time or press his hand up against mine to show me how strong he was. But because without him, something in my DNA was not right…has never been right.
This is not about feeling broken forever. But it’s also not about pretending our scars are invisible.
It is about accepting reality.
“You were born without an arm.”
“Your child didn’t survive.”
“You are not book smart, and you never will be.”
“You have a skin disease.”
“He left you because he didn’t love you.”
“It’s depression. Bi-polar. Chronic fatigue. Cancer. Down Syndrome.”
Yes, we can live with them, and yes, we can be better because of them. The world may even benefit from our loss – from our ability to cope, push through, rise above, and show others the way. But there is still…
I suppose you could propose another theory – one that makes the pain go away forever. But it has been my experience that something has always been awry in me. Because the blood of my father is coursing through my veins, and the second we stood across from each other, blood to blood, and he didn’t recognize his son, that blood ran cold.
This dull ache that lingers has hollowed out a chamber in my heart. And in that space, if you were to listen closely, you’d hear the words “To whom do you belong?” echoing off the walls.
To God, I suppose. And most of the time that is enough. Most of the time it is. But not all of the time.
Because one night the girls will be gone to a friend’s house and my wife, Heather will be out late at work, and I will decide to get dinner on my own. I’ll arrive at a restaurant, carrying these buried wounds inside me, and will just happen to see a father and his two sons of whom I know. They will invite me to sit at their table, and without even knowing the wounds are there, I will sit down in the presence of all of that father and son-ness.
I will listen to the banter between them, as they laugh, tease and love one another. I will witness something I’ve never known. And as I watch this effortless dance between them, the hidden pain within me will shout into that chamber once again, “To whom do you belong?”
This lifelong question reverberates within me, and each time it does, I am sad for a moment. And then broken.
But then I will cope, push through, rise above and show others the way.
To whom do I belong? To God, I suppose. But I also belong to you. The broken.
And I suppose you belong to me.
Matt Bays has been in full-time ministry for 20+ years, most recently as the worship pastor of Northview Church, Carmel IN. His first book Finding God in the Ruins (How God Redeems Pain) is scheduled for national release in March of 2016 by David C. Cook Publishers (available for preorder here). Matt and his wife Heather, a studio singer in the Indianapolis area, have two fun-loving and insightful teenage daughters.
Matt is inspired to write about life through the power of story. He believes that our best stories live in our secrets. And if we can find the courage to tell the truth of those stories, we can change the broken spirit of humanity. Check out Matt’s blog at mattbayswriter.com
Matt Bays has the best book trailer I’ve seen in a long time. Enjoy the music, and watch with tissues.
“My father and I had exchanged hugs just one hour earlier; he didn’t know who I was.” – @MattBaysWriter
“Just because we understand where our pain comes from does not mean it disappears.” – @MattBaysWriter
“This is not about feeling broken forever. But it’s not about pretending our scars are invisible.” @MattBaysWriter
Over to you:
- ‘To whom do you belong?’ – to what extent does that question reverberate through your own heart?
- What do you think about the idea of ‘the fellowship of the broken’? Can you relate to finding fellowship amidst brokenness?
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