It started with a slight slurring of speech, barely noticeable, and mostly in the evenings. Then there were the occasional bouts of muscle weakness – but again nothing alarming. The slurring got worse when he was tired. A visit to the doc seemed absurdly preposterous – but why not, just to put his mind at ease. One test let to another and then to another, and soon they were praying for a treatable disease, ANY treatable disease but the one the doctor suspected. When the diagnosis finally came back, it was ALS and suddenly, everything they counted on was gone. Life was dramatically changed – and forever.
IN TODAY’S Gospel, Jesus points to the temple, the pride and joy of every Jewish person, their place of refuge in the storm and the one constant in their relationship with God. Jesus says: “The days are coming when all of this will be torn down.” And we hear the disciples being almost unable to comprehend that such a thing could be possible, much less seeing how they could go on after its destruction. “How could we ever be okay without the temple?” they thought. Isn’t that exactly the question we ask when our temples are torn down. It is what my friends asked when their diagnosis came. What do you do, when what you thought you had to have to be okay, is no longer there?
Because the truth is we always make temples, don’t we? We always elevate something or someone to be that place of wholeness for us, to be that which we rely upon to get us through. And those temples – they always get torn down. A family member is diagnosed with cancer; a loved one dies suddenly and inexplicably; a friend betrays our trust and confidence; mom and dad get divorce. In those moments, our carefully constructed world of how we thought God was going to be faithful falls apart and the temples come crumbling to the ground. What do you do when what you thought you had to have to be okay is no longer there? What DO you hang onto?
Jesus tells his disciples: “Even when you are betrayed and persecuted, handed over by brothers and sisters; even when all the carefully constructed temples you built crumble and tumble to the ground, TRUST – ‘not a hair on your head will be destroyed.’” Jesus can say that because he knows the heart of God. He knows that God is with us in the adventure of life. Through the struggles and difficulties, through the experience of “not one stone left on another stone”, God will walk with you and bring you life from death. There is a new life on the other end…a new good that emerges and comes to be. Joseph Campbell, writer and American Mythologist says it this way: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
Dave and Ann dreaded the bad news in the days before they knew. They had hoped for something treatable. Even now they pray for their miracle. Yet they have discovered in the family and friends that have surrounded them – Team FROGS they call themselves – (after Dave’s college mascot), that there is more. There is a community of faith that is sustaining them and pulling for them and loving them in ways that they never knew nor thought possible. And they have discovered what somewhat wrote about the diagnosis of cancer is true for the diagnosis of ALS. “What Cancer Can’t do.” Cancer is so limited: It cannot cripple love. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot invade the soul. It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.
They are learning to live the life that is waiting for them once their temples had fallen.
For us, how do we do the same? How do we learn that TRUST after all our temples have crumbled to the ground? There are three tasks are crucial and that are much easier to enumerate than they are to accomplish – as they take a lot of work on our part.
1) We have to let go of the life we thought we would have. All the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s will only keep us chained that life that is no longer ours. Grieve the loss, but don’t stay in that past life.
2) Diversify – do not put all our eggs in one basket. In ways that are wonderful for their marriage – they have been so open to receiving the support of so many, not being jealous of the people that are good for their spouse – but celebrating the gift others are for them that they can’t be. By letting others into their struggle, they have let God into their struggle.
3) Finally, as you can imagine, they both have developed a habit of prayer that they keep returning to and that allows them to tap into the love of God in all the tough moments. God, give me my daily bread – not what I’ll need tomorrow or 5 weeks from now or 5 months from now – but what I need for today.
Living this way, they know the perseverance that Jesus concludes the gospel with: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
You know, there is an old bumper sticker that says all this quite simply. “The world is going to end … but it won’t be the end of the world.”