There’s a painful privilege that comes with being a pastor. It’s the opportunity to walk with people through the waning moments of life. In those moments, over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to witness remarkable trust and courage, love and hope. Those moments are often quite private. But not always. The world was welcomed into one of those moments when former President Jimmy Carter held a news conference to talk about his diagnosis and prognosis, which could hardly be called good news. I could write a lot about him and what he had to say. In the coarse conversation of our current political climate, he provides a different model of public persona, thanks be to God.
But this morning I want to focus on his answer when asked about his regrets. He spoke about the failed hostage rescue and how he subsequently lost reelection. I’ve read enough of his biography to know that the failure to secure a second term was a great disappointment. The days after he left the White House were depleting and depressing. But in his news conference, he said that if he had won a second term, if he had been a success in the ways most people regard success, he would not have started the Carter Center, which has had a great healing impact on the world. From behind that news conference desk, he acknowledged that in hindsight, he would prefer the path of the Carter Center to the path of a second term in the White House. The loss opened the way to something better. But I’d bet he wouldn’t have known that the morning after the election in 1980.
Think of the biblical character Joseph, of technicolor raincoat fame. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, then imprisoned under false accusation in Egypt. There were any number of moments when disappointment and betrayal would spell defeat. And he had started out with such a bright future. It was not until years later that he could take a look in the spiritual rearview mirror and see providence. In the poignant scene when he meets his brothers who had treated him with cruel intention, he is able to say to them: “You meant it to me for evil. God meant it for good.” In the way that President Carter has led efforts to bring health care to parts of the world that never had it, Joseph’s circuitous journey meant the salvation of his own people, and other nations, from starvation. Who knew?
I’m not saying this happens all the time. But it happens enough to make us think about the possibilities that might unfold, the good that might just come out of the challenges we face. It may be that this Monday morning, you face a challenge or defeat or failure that seems definitive. Maybe you feel like you made a bad choice, even a stupid one, and you can’t forgive yourself. If so, offer that challenge or defeat or failure to the one we call redeemer.
It may be that this Monday morning you can take a look in that spiritual rearview mirror and see that providence was at work. If so, offer thanks for the ways that transformation has happened. Maybe even share that with some one, by way of encouragement.
Below, find a favorite quote from Phillips Brooks, a great Episcopal preacher (no, that is not an oxymoron). You may have heard it from me on a previous Monday, but it bears repeating. It talks about how God uses all of our experiences, indeed redeems them. Maybe you already know that to be true. Maybe in the thick of it, you need a reminder that God is in the business of redemption. I’ve seen it happen. Dead ends can become thresholds.
– Jay Sidebotham
You must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing. -Phillips Brooks
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.