Across the Pastor’s Desk: Overcoming life’s challenges

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Kenneth Jensen

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” — Romans 8:37.

Serving as an on-call chaplain at a southeastern Wisconsin hospital, the policy was for the chaplain to be called to the emergency room to break the news to families when automobile fatalities occurred. Often, the ER would call on a Friday or Saturday night. Another underage Illinois teenage had paid the price for crossing the border to purchase and consume alcohol in Wisconsin — then an 18-year-old state.

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One family whose son was killed in a crash wanted no part of me or the hospital. They would wait for their pastor to come, pray and bring their son back to life. I later learned their pastor did a commendable job comforting his parishioners and enabling them to face reality.

Kenneth Jensen

Denial serves as a defense mechanism. In a positive sense, it serves to cushion the shock which accompanies bad news. It provides time for reality to sink in. However, denial is not a safe or healthy place in which to remain. It can become the initial step on a path toward self destruction.

Our body sends a signal something’s wrong, but we believe the symptom will eventually go away. We pull the handle on the slot machine one more time, convinced we’ll win the jackpot. Another drink won’t hurt … I can handle it. An unrealized desire for intimacy stimulates a consumption of pornography. Addressing the basic needs of life creates an obsession to possess more and more stuff.

A tension exists within the between two basic human desires: freedom and security. When our sense of security is threatened by stressful situations, painful experiences or a lack of self worth, we are susceptible to exercising freedom in unhelpful ways.

In an effort to alleviate stress, reduce pain and diminish pangs of unworthiness, we attach ourselves to people, places or things which enable us to avoid reality. We increasingly rely upon that which offers momentary escape, relief or comfort. Eventually attachments spiral downward to become addictions. Living in denial of our addictions enslaves us and holds us captive.

But, the good news is that God creates and cares for us in such a way that our addictions never completely vanquish our freedom. Addiction may oppress our desire, erode our wills, confound our motivations and contaminate our judgment, but its bondage is never absolute. An addiction can be the very thing which brings us on our knees before God.

Faced with the reality we cannot master everything ourselves, we recognize our need for something or someone to break in from the outside. Denial is no longer an option. Our only option is to lean on a higher power. We need God.

In biblical terms, the opposite of denial is repentance. Confronted with reality, we are motivated to turn about and move in a new direction. Both the old an new testaments portray a God of grace — not judgment — who reaches out to embrace those who seek divine guidance, forgiveness and strength to overcome that which holds us captive.

Yearning for God lies at the heart of our humanity. When we substitute our longing for God with other people, places or things, life takes a detour. However, the symbol of Christ on the cross is a welcome home sign. The cross reminds us of the depth of God’s love for us and the distance God will go to offer redemption and renewal when we have fallen or missed the mark.

Kenneth Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.