CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter…
The telephone rang on Sunday afternoon, as it often does in a parsonage.
“Why did you say in church this morning that we shouldn’t pray for my son-in-law?” the voice demanded.
“Well, Bernice, I just wanted to do something nasty to you and make you mad,” I replied.
There was a long pause. Then she said, “I thought it was something like that.”
I had recognized the voice because I was expecting the call. Earl had already telephoned to warn me. Bernice had called him and wanted to know why I had said during Joys and Concerns in the worship service that we should not pray for her son-in-law.
Prayer requests during Joys & Concerns come in a wide range. In the same minute someone asks for prayers for someone badly injured in a car accident, someone else will ask for prayers for a paper cut. It’s all prayer-worthy, but discombobulating. Some people get very specific in their requests. We visited in a church where J&C took a lot of time. At one point the man behind us whispered to his wife, “Was that the left ventricle or the right ventricle we are supposed to pray for?”
Bernice didn’t come to worship regularly, but she had telephoned me about her son-in-law. He lived in another state and had a paper cut type of problem. We didn’t make distinctions, though. If someone asked for prayer, we prayed.
I assured her we would put him on the prayer list and pray for him in worship, which we had done for three weeks before Bernice showed up at church. When I opened Joys & Concerns that morning, she asked for prayer for him. I pointed out that he was in the printed list in the bulletin and that we had been praying for him for several weeks and would continue to do so.
Earl said Bernice had already telephoned several others in the congregation, before she called him, all of whom had told her what he told her: “No, he didn’t say we should NOT pray for him. He said we had been praying for him and would keep on doing it.” Bernice was not deterred.
I like people with problems, in part because there is no other type of person to like. I have trouble, though, liking problem people, and in every church I pastored, there was a problem person or two… or ten.
People with problems are a possibility. You might actually be of some help to them. Problem people, though, are help-less. They are sure they are already right about everything. To them, it’s always someone else who is the problem. They are those “who have no need of a physician.”
We went on to have a nice conversation, Bernice and I, because her world had been restored to normalcy. She had been proved right. To anyone else, my stated desire to “do something nasty to make her mad” would have created a problem. To Bernice, it had solved a problem. I was back in her good graces.
I’m not sure I want to recommend this as a general communication method. I doubt that it would do Barack Obama much good to go on Fox News and say, “Yes, I was born in Kenya and I’m a secret Muslim socialist Nazi communist who hates white people.” Then his detractors would say, “See, he’s a liar, too,” not even noticing the contradiction.
You can’t help problem people, because they won’t acknowledge that they are the problem. So you might as well have some fun.
Which is what I did on the first day of spring, when it was snowing yet again, and we were getting ready for another week-end of below zero [F] lows and single digit highs. I said something nasty to spring, just as I did to Bernice. But I prayed for spring, too, just as I did for Bernice… and her son-in-law.
It worked. We were able to walk in sunshine in the park yesterday afternoon, at 50 degrees.
John Robert McFarland
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!
I tweet, occasionally, as yooper1721.