Comfort, O Comfort

Three months ago, on my son Josh's 3-year-old birthday, 13-year-old Jayme Closs lived her worst nightmare, in quaint, friendly northwestern Wisconsin, less than two hours from my home.

The courage and indomitable will of Jayme Closs

She was startled by seeing a man outside her house around 1 a.m., and she and her mother hid in the bathroom while her dad opened the door. 21-year-old Jake Patterson shot Jayme's dad and her mom, and then he kidnapped her and held her against her will for 88 days, until Jayme escaped into the woods and fields of frigid and rural Gordon, Wisc., 70 miles north.

She saw a woman walking her dog, and Jayme - terrified and beaten but never, ever defeated - cried for help. She had escaped. She had endured. Her story, while full of tragic events, would not end in tragedy.

Still, we - those who watched Jayme and followed her story and wondered what if it was us, or our kids, or our son, the perpetrator - we are left with a recurrent sense of innocence lost. Reportedly Patterson chose to kidnap Jayme after watching her board a school bus. The families weren't connected. Randomness, and a sense of utter evil, made the story all the more ominous and frightening.

I talked to pastors and church leaders in northwestern Wisconsin a few weeks ago for a story I was writing for Living Lutheran. They talked about the grief and loss and fear carried by the entire community of Barron. Now, Jamie has returned - yet amidst her triumph she must grieve - and her community with her must confront the evil within them and around them.

I wrote last month about safety and where we find it - or where we think we find it - and how safety and security seems elusive in an age of government shutdown, church scandals, #MeToo, and unceasing household debt. It's tempting to seek out security in ever-tightening circles of exclusivity. Build that wall. Don't talk to strangers. Block that friend. Increase your filters. Buy a Ring doorbell.

Still, I find all too often, we are left at our core afraid. Or at the least, unsettled, and seeking comfort.

I took an unofficial oath as a journalist, and as a pastor, to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." Sometimes, though, when figuring out who to comfort, we forget to count ourselves.

Many women I know joke about that extra glass of wine at night, or existing only by coffee by day - and sometimes that joke is all-too-real in my life, too. But God offers us something more than liquid comfort or liquid courage.

Too often the Church presents the Gospel of Jesus was a change agent, a story to condemn ourselves or others. Jesus is not shy with his list of complaints, and he does not hesitate to call evil by its name. Still, when I study the Bible, and when I pray to God, the overriding message I hear is not condemnation but comfort.

In a national moment when a young teenage girl must claw her way out of captivity to find freedom again, albeit without her mom and dad; a national moment when some of our most beloved inspirational songs are tainted by the sexual and physical abuse inflicted by the man who sang them -- we are desperately in need of comfort and compassion.

The God of the Bible is a great source of comfort and compassion. This morning at our women's Bible study, we spent an hour talking about the greatest stories and passages in the Bible that bring us comfort: at times of uncertainty, doubt, debt, illness, or even broken relationships.

As we read these passages together, I found myself internally emotional but also unquestionably uplifted. There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead, to make you whole. There is a balm in Gilead, to make us whole again.

I've compiled a list of the passages we shared during that hour below. I know the Bible offers many more. Please comment and add your favorite and why it comforts you.

Philippians 4:4-9
Genesis 50:15-21
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Romans 8:26
Isaiah 43:1-5
Isaiah 40:28-31
Psalm 23
Numbers 6:24-26
Jeremiah 29:11-14
Hebrews 13:5
John 14:1-7
Psalm 23
Psalm 27
Isaiah 41:10
John 14:16-18

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