This morning I'm reading 2 Timothy chapter 4 again and again. It appears this is the Apostle Paul's last book and chapter 4 is the last chapter of the book. Paul is wrapping things up. For a man who 'forgets those things that are behind' he recounts a great deal of pain and love.
"For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message." - 2 Timothy 4:10-15 ESV
Even in this last chapter of his life Paul is suffering because of mistreatment and separation.
The last few days my mind has been flooded with faces and names of people. I have struggled with giving myself grace for not being able to put a name to a face I am praying for.
At times like this I am very aware of secret pain. People have it. I have had it and I'm sure there is more coming. I was crippled emotionally by pain before I believed in God. Then after God converted me and began the healing process I was hurt again and many times since. I have been hurt in His house and out if it. Patches of my hair has temporarily turned white with grief to the point where even though I believed in God there have been times when I could not imagine ever being truly whole and happy again.
I am happy now and I have no bitterness. Memory... Yes. Blame... No. That in itself is miraculous. At the same time I understand why people are bitter and marvel at the depth of what different people go through.
Over time God has given me ways to process pain. I never hurt alone nor do I desire to push away other people's pain the way I used to. God has become my burden bearer. My arms tire from handing Him things but I am learning not to carry them myself for very long. I identify very strongly with Paul. He is not claiming mastery over these very human issues. He is expressing a believable hope as a little person with real needs.
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." - 2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV
Anyone who has ever 'loved His appearing' will one day be satisfied. There will be a grand reunion.
I think of Timothy learning of Paul's death and then at some point pulling this letter out of a drawer and realizing that it was the last one. No more new guidance was coming to him from that man he loved so dearly. Pain mingled with love. Memory. How many times did Timothy read this letter? How many times have believers reread it?
Paul walked with God and finished his course well. He didn't spend his life safely insulating himself from potentially painful situations. He walked with God and knew he had a crown waiting. Timothy remembered Paul and continued in his call having had an example of endurance in his life.
God, Help us to be mindful of each other. We can't wait to see you. Until then we want to live our lives fully casting down anything that would cause us to be bitter. There are many chapters left to be written. We want them to be filled with faith and freshness. Today we are not as naive as we have been before. Today we ask you fill us with hope and childlike faith for what can be if as believers we will only believe.