God's Presence in our Pain
I love finding God in unexpected places. Sometimes it is in a song I hear, or something I read, or a story on the news. It usually makes me cry, as was the case with a moment from the movie Little Miss Sunshine that was brought to my mind again recently. The film is about a family on a road trip from Arizona to California so that 7-year-old Olive can compete in a beauty pageant. Every member of the extended family is eccentric to say the least, and Olive’s teenage brother, Dwayne, is no exception. He has taken a vow of silence until he reaches his goal of entering the Air Force Academy, and has not spoken a word in over ten months.
On the way to California, through a series of events, Dwayne learns that he has a medical condition that disqualifies him from the Air Force Academy. His stepfather barely has time to pull the van off the road before Dwayne jumps out, and his silence is broken by screams of rage and despair. His dreams are shattered. The family looks on helplessly while Wayne cries and shouts obscenities in an open field. Finally, his mother goes to him and tries to calm him down. “Dwayne, honey, everything’s going to be okay. I’m so sorry, but it will be alright, I promise. There are lots of other things you can do. Just get back in the van.”
When he refuses, she becomes upset and urges, “Look, for better or worse, we are your family. We’ve got to stick together.” Dwayne screams that he doesn’t want to be part of the family, and hurls insults at all of them. His mother gives up, and walks back to the van in silence. A long moment passes. No one knows what to do. Then slowly, little Olive begins making her way to where her brother is seated in the dirt. Without saying a word, she squats down beside him, looking very sad. After a minute, she gently puts her arm around him and leans her head on his shoulder. A few moments pass in silence, with Olive wordlessly showing her love and empathy for Dwayne, until finally he sighs, “Okay, let’s go.” He picks up his little sister and they head back to the van to complete their journey.
Olive gives a beautiful picture of God in that scene. So many times when I have found myself in the dirt, sad and angry, I have lashed out at those around me, including God. Those are the times, when I least expected it, that it seemed God knelt down with me and put an arm around me, loving me without saying a word. In the midst of our pain, we may cry out for answers and receive instead only the assurance that God is real and present. And, like many before us, we may find that to be enough.
God, thank you for loving us as we are. Help us to see you where you meet us, in the unexpected places of our lives. Your loving presence is what we need most. Thank you for offering it so freely. Amen.
-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent