This is the content of a talk I gave this morning at Redcliffe Devotions/chapel. For context, many of our students have come back from their six-week placements.
What do I do with what I’ve seen?
‘So, how was your placement?’
This is the dreaded question many of you will be wrestling with over the next week as you write your block placement reports. It’s a simple enough question, isn’t it? Well, maybe not – simple to ask but hard to answer; how do I make sense of all those experiences?
How do I even begin to process it all?
The question I want to explore together this morning is this: What do I do with what I’ve seen?
This is relevant to placements but essential to any time of ministry, given that trying to follow Jesus in our broken world will involve times of intense joy, times of extreme pain, and an awful lot of days of nothing in particular. But each requires a response.
I want to share with you three brief reflections from the Bible on what to do with what you may have experienced on placement: What do I do when I’ve seen wonders?; What do I do when I’ve seen heartbreak?; What do I do when I’ve seen nothing?
When I’ve seen wonders – Luke 10:17-20
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (TNIV)
Earlier in the chapter Jesus had sent out these 72 of his followers on a kind of block placement. Perhaps you can relate to some of their experiences: they were going into some scary situations like lambs among wolves, they were dependent on the hospitality and generosity of others, they had to eat what was put in front of them!
Eventually they come back to Jesus and tell him about it; not through a 25 minute presentation or a 3,000 word assignment but a kind of excited report of the miracles they’ve witnessed.
Perhaps you witnessed or experienced things on placement you weren’t expecting. These seventy two weren’t necessarily expecting to be casting out demons so it came as a ‘joyful extra’. No wonder they were excited; in some way they had been participants in Jesus’ victory of satan, seeing something of the kingdom of God breaking in and taking charge!
Jesus’ response is to give them a lesson in perspective and priorities. The sick people they had seen healed (probably the context in which the exorcisms took place) will one day die.
What will last is that the disciples belong to God. Yes, take joy in seeing God at work now but have even more joy in knowing your name is written in the book of life.
When I’ve seen heartbreak – Ecclesiastes 4:1-3
Ecc. 4:1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
2 And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
3 But better than both
is the one who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun. (TNIV)
For some of you the abiding memory of your placement will be being confronted with some of the grinding poverty, abuse, suffering and hopelessness experienced by people living and dieing in our broken world.
For some you will read verses like this passage in Ecclesiastes and it will describe some of what you have seen. Just an overwhelming sense of grief.
I don’t propose to tell you how to fix this sadness in your soul if that is what you feel.
I do know that having our hearts broken makes us more able to understand the pain of our broken world; and maybe we are more able to follow Jesus if we are walking with a limp.
Henri Nouwen talked about being a ‘wounded healer’. Perhaps processing these uncomfortable aspects of the realities of the world means not an escape from them or a recovery from them straight away, but a dwelling with them for a while. Before launching into all the necessary action, perhaps for a time, like Job’s comforters, God is calling you just to sit amongst the ashes.
When I’ve seen nothing – 2 Tim. 4:6-8
2 Tim. 4:5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (TNIV)
Finally, moving in from the extremes we are left with the middle ground. Neither joy, nor pain; just routine.
One of the most valuable things we need to learn is ‘long obedience in the same direction’. Any guesses who might have come up with this wonderful phrase? It was Fredriech Nietzsche! He said, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is. . . that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
Eugene Peterson adopted the phrase to describe Christian discipleship (see his brilliant book on the Psalms of Ascents, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction).
Yes, there are days of excitement, of sorrow, of joy, of pain. But there are also stretches of nothing-much-ness; tedium; neither one thing nor the other. Even for Paul, he must have had many days where nothing particularly exciting happened, but he could still say at the end of his life that he had remained faithful throughout.
Maybe as you consider your placement your abiding memory will be staring at a computer screen, or taking out the rubbish for the 100th time. But in terms of character development, this is often where the action is. Who knows, without even realising it, your supposedly run of the mill experience of a placement might end up being pivotal in your development as a disciple of Jesus.
Finally, perhaps my original question was wrong. Perhaps it should not be
What do I do with what I’ve seen, but…
What do we do with what I’ve seen
The point of being in community is that my story becomes our story. My joys become our joys; my pain becomes our pain. Maybe even, my tedium becomes our tedium.
Whatever you have experienced on placement; whatever you have experienced this year at Redcliffe, you have the opportunity to work it out together. This is part of the ‘one-another’ing we reflected on earlier in the year.
As we meet in community groups or chat over meals, let us consider:
– how might the exciting times remind us to realign our joy perspective?
– how might we process pain together and be shaped by it?
– how might the in-between times shape our long obedience in the same direction?