The GPS for today refers to the question posed in the final verse of Jeremiah 8: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” The Message translation asks the question this way: “For my dear broken people, I’m heartbroken. I weep, seized by grief. Are there no healing ointments in Gilead? Isn’t there a doctor in the house? So why can’t something be done to heal and save my dear, dear people?” (Jeremiah 8:21-22)
The GPS for today specifically asks, “In what ways has God’s presence been a healing balm in your life?” Strangely enough, God’s presence as a healing balm in my life has often come through Jeremiah. With all of the prophetic judgment and seeming condemnation in Jeremiah, that might seem a bit odd. However, it was four years ago that Jeremiah 8 brought consolation instead of condemnation, and peace where there simply was no peace.
On Valentine’s Day 2007, I flew home to Clarksville, TN to make the final decision regarding my father’s life. After what had become weeks, respirators were barely keeping him alive, and at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, he weighed just over 100 pounds. I knew God was with me, present in ways I can only imagine, but in my father’s dying, life was difficult, and Jeremiah 8: 18 (The Message) said it all: “I drown in grief. I’m heartsick. Oh, listen! Please listen!” For a myriad of family reasons, the decision to take my father off the respirator fell to me, and that night as his life slowly faded away, we gathered around my father’s bed in the ICU, and recited the 23rd Psalm. It was beautiful, it was terrible. It simply was.
As expected, in the weeks that followed folks offered condolences, letters, cards, calls and visits. I was grateful, but there was little peace. As I tried to listen, little comfort came. As I preached the following Sunday, the words did not come easily, but through God’s presence of grace, they came. Those around me were kind and understanding, but grief is a strange thing, and it was only in the next week that it all set in. It was only in the next week that I found Jeremiah 8, or maybe I should say, it found me.
Up to this point, I had yet to shed a tear. The world continued to turn. Life went on, but I continued to beat myself up because I had found little peace. Through a friend, a stretcher-bearer in my life, Jeremiah found me. He understood, and in verse 11, he brought an unexpected balm, saying, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Or hear it another way in The Message: “My dear Daughter – my people – broken, shattered, and yet they put on band-aids, saying, ‘It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.’ But things are not ‘just fine.’”
Sometimes, there simply is no peace. There are no words of comfort that can be said, no trite expressions, no witty quips, nothing. In these moments (when they come, because they will come), my hope and prayer for us all is that we each may allow God’s presence to be healing in our life. In these moments when peace eludes, there is a balm in Gilead. When we cannot seem to find it, may it find us. May God’s presence be with us, within us, behind us, beneath us, and before us…this day and all days. Amen.
Rev. Cayce Stapp serves as the Beyond KC Missions Pastor at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.