I was inspired in a meeting earlier this morning by a series of clips from the film Apollo 13 just after the “Houston, we have a problem” moment. This is the time in the story when it became clear things had gone very, very wrong. Though initially scheduled to land on the moon, the mission changed in an instant to getting the astronauts safely home against (pardon the term) astronomical odds.
I heard echoes of this excerpt from Nehemiah in those fraught Apollo moments, too, moments when expectations and reality met and the meeting didn’t go well.
So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” -Nehemiah 8:8-10
The people returned to Jerusalem, many who had never seen it before. They arrived after a lifetime of stories of its beauty from their parents and grandparents, themselves survivors of the siege and memory-bearers through the exile. And yet, in this expectant moment of return, they found rubble. Of course they wept.
It was in this space of brokenness that the law was read and remembered. Nehemiah and Ezra looked at these people who had endured much to get to this point and told them not to mourn. It was important for the people to not only dwell on the brokenness of the past but rather look to the future, to what God had in store for them, and to treat even that day of disappointment as a day holy to the Lord, worthy of feasting and joy.
Where are you mourning something disappointing or avoiding something frightening in your life? Gene Kranz’s dialogue in Apollo 13 resonated with me in thinking about how I personally deal with setbacks and further how I walk alongside others who are going through tough times. I think there is wisdom here for all of our journeys into discipleship.
Work the problem… let’s not make things worse by guessing…
So often in ministry and in life we start thinking about what we want to do to help others going through a struggle before we actually ask them what they need. There are always impulses toward offering things to others which we know are good and would likely be helpful, and yet the person on the other end of the gift might be blinded by a greater need to your gifts utility. Why not ask first? In my experience, nobody has ever felt worse after being listened to, no matter what next steps follow the conversation.
What do we have on the spacecraft that’s good?
The Apollo 13 spacecraft was damaged and barely operational, but Kranz turned that knowledge into a search to find what was still working. Sometimes we despair when we find out the things we have to offer people aren’t the things people want. Yet everything – every situation, every job, every conflict, every person – contains fragmentary portions of the divine image of God waiting to be restored in the people involved. There is always something good to be found which can be helpful in developing a solution.
I don’t care what something was designed to do, I want to know what it can do!
Many things in our lives were built in a different time for different people with different problems. Consider your home – how old is it? What upgrades have you had to perform to adapt the space to your contemporary wants and needs? Think about our church building and all the additions, renovations, restorations, and other changes constantly taking place in that space. The materials available to us are part of the story of how we flourish. Think about the situations in your life which may no longer be working as intended and ask “what can this do differently today?”
I pray you all are able to reflect on the many opportunities God places in our lives to listen, learn, and respond to the needs of others.
Grace and Peace,