While speaking at a retreat one weekend, we had a little glitch in the schedule. The final presentation time was supposed to be a comedy group doing a humorous skit. When I arrived at the conference, the organizers not only informed me that the troupe had canceled but also wondered what my thoughts might be on how to fill the time for that final session. After speaking for three sessions, yet more talking didn't sound appealing, not to mention I had not prepared additional remarks.
However, what I had prepared for part of my session was a list of reflection questions for the women to apply the things that I said to their lives. The questions looked deep: "How do I live the truth of scripture into my life?" and "What things did God speak to me this weekend?" and "How does that change how I live my day to day life with my family?" What if we asked them to not only reflect but to share those things around their tables?
Part of our discussion over the retreat was about how God places his treasure in jars of clay and shines through the brokenness in our life. We talked about how God uses the weak things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:27) and how his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). I had encouraged the women to share their brokenness with each other, but would these women be able to make themselves that vulnerable? What would happen if they opened up to one another?
In that final session I passed out the reflection papers and encouraged the women to share together the thoughts that they were putting on their papers. It was amazing to see the women begin to share together the hurts and struggles of their lives. Broken relationships, challenges of busy lives, attempts to move past painful experiences, finding ways to live more faithfully in their walk with God--all the stuff of living in a broken world. Our lives followed different paths, but our pain we shared in common. Eyes were wet with tears at various tables as women shared their hearts.
Women reached out to each other and supported each other with words and hugs. Common ground was discovered in the brokenness that permeates our earthly lives. Young and old together spoke of their heartaches and their desires to invest more deeply in their faith and their families. I felt so blessed to have a front row seat to this sacred moment. It was a glimpse into the unity of heaven where all our divisions pass away and we share together in giving glory to the God who walks with us through all of our heartaches.
Galatians 6 tells us that as we carry one another's burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ. As we share together, we honor God as the author of each testimony. One of the retreat organizers had commented before the retreat started that there was no use fretting--if the drama team was not coming it could mean only that God had a different plan. What incredibly wise words. God had indeed had a plan for that remaining time. He planned for these women to acknowledge their brokenness and share their hurts together. He had planned for these women to reach out in grace and care for each other. He planned for these women to share the unity of heaven by bearing one another’s burdens.
The apostle Paul said, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8). May we likewise not be ashamed of our testimony, but share in Christ's suffering and encourage one another in our journey of faith.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema