Hope Within The Shadows…

BY DOMINICK SANTORE

The Sixth Sense is a suspenseful and scary movie where a little boy is born with the strange gift of seeing dead people. He gets some unusual help, but with that help, determines that these dead people aren’t there to terrorize him, but want his assistance. They know he can see them, and they want him to right wrongs in their past lives, or wish a loved one goodbye. Eventually, the unusual help he gets comes to understand the child is there to help him move on as well. This is an excellent movie, and I highly recommend it.

Now, why am I talking about this?

Well besides being an incredibly bad segue, in a terribly flawed article, I tend to see myself in other people in the same way this young boy sees the dead. It sometimes feels as if these other selves haunt me like shadows lurking around me, and no matter what I do, I can’t make them go away. The best I can do is contemplate what I’m seeing and what it means for me. I see these shadows in any number of people, including family and friends, and co-workers and strangers. Most might look upon some of the people I describe as maybe less fortunate.

For me, seeing things in this way, remind me of how blessed I’ve been in this life. I don’t have a surplus of cash, a mansion, or anything like that. What I have had that has blessed me, are more simple things. The things that we take for granted until they are nearly gone. I have been blessed with decent health for my 47 years. I have been blessed with steady employment that affords me a decent level of living. I’ve been blessed with a good wife and children I love dearly, as well as a few good friends. It’s a modestly average, typical life I suppose.

Still, I can’t help but see shadows of myself in people around me. I work in a courthouse, funneling one divorce document after another in front of my judge. On occasion, I come across people I know. The people I know only make my shadow-self more real to me. I’m married, but with struggles just like anyone else. Because of that, and maybe some familiar sounding stories, I can see myself standing in front of a litigant’s table, instead of sitting at the desk to the left of it. I can see how easily this could be me, with all the heartache and pain, and struggles that follow.

I recently watched a reality show dealing with people’s gross obesity, where they were challenged to lose hundreds of pounds. Some needed to do that, just to stand up. I watched in horror as they fail, and enablers around them shovel large amounts of food in front of their face. I saw the way their abused body was decaying and breaking down from lack of use. I see my shadow-self there. I’ve never been skinny, and over the last year I’ve been fortunate to lose 60lbs, but damned if I can’t see myself clearly in the lives of these people. How easy it is to give up on life, and just lay in bed. I think I caught a glimpse of it when I was 261lbs. I saw how easy it was to just keep giving in. Even now I still wrestle, and sometimes fail at saying no to old habits.

I see people laid low by unexpected illnesses. Two friends my age, both suffering from debilitating strokes. Always rehabilitating, but never the same again. I’ve seen the frustration of not being able to live and do the simple things, like take a walk, or even take a breath that doesn’t require a horribly labored effort. I see myself in them. “Why was I spared?”, I ask. I’m not anything special. I’ve certainly abused my body at times. Why hasn’t something happened to me? I see my shadow-self in them. In their beds and wheelchairs. I see them, talk to them and wonder, despite their struggles and frustration, would I fare so well if it were me? I don’t know.

I see my shadow-self in the homeless, as I wonder how many life choices have I been away from being dealt a similar fate. I see my shadow-self in the mentally ill, still wondering sometimes if I’m not a little off my rocker, and if someday, I’ll find myself within some padded room, or worse, maybe wandering the street muttering to myself. I see my shadow-self in the Alzheimer patient, recognizing that who I am is slowly fading away and being replaced by someone no one knows, including myself. I see my shadow-self in the severely depressed, in the lonely and unloved, and in the marginalized and broken of spirit. I recognize myself in all of it, and in all of them, because I see what stares back at me in the mirror.

As I walk through life and come across people in these various stages of pain and misery, difficulty and struggle, I must admit that I am filled with a sense of disdain. It’s not a noble thought, I know. It’s not because I hate, or wish ill of any of them. I feel it because, in each of these people, I see a bit of myself, and it scares me. Despite my good job, house over my head, family and friends, I never feel completely secure, and often wonder what will happen, or better said, when will “it” happen. That thing that pushes me a little closer. Will it be some random act that makes no sense, or some poor choice on my part that causes it? It worries me. But I do have hope. It’s a little rickety and worn down by the elements of life that constantly slam against it in all its hearty gale, but it’s there.

Where is my hope in all of this?

It is in Christ.

Christ, who left his throne through the pain and suffering of childbirth, and returned to it by the pain and suffering of a brutal death and the eventual resurrection. In between that time, he touched the homeless and the diseased. He interacted with the poor and suffering. He even exposed hypocrisy in the religious, for the sake of salvation. He loved all the broken people around him. He loved the ones that cried out, “help me believe.” He even loved the ones who loved wealth so much they would eventually walk away from him.  I know this because “God so loved the world…” not the just ones who responded.  I know this because, with his last exasperated breath, Jesus begged forgiveness on behalf of the ones that cried out “crucify him!”

He came for a mass of undesirable sinners.

And I am one...   

There is something encouraging in being able to see yourself in some of the most undesirable people, at least, there is for me. It’s certainly humbling to the point that it encourages you to try to love others better. Even the ugly ones. But even more, it reminds you, that you are the ugly one too. When Jesus was pouring out instructions from a mountaintop, he wasn’t reminding people to get their act together. He was reminding them they couldn’t.  I’m not poor enough. I’m not meek enough. I don’t mourn or hunger and thirst for righteousness like I should. Merciful? Pure in heart? It’s laughable to even consider that. These commands remind me of my ugliness and brokenness. It reminds me that I needed someone to be all those things for me.

Christ was all those things for me. He still IS all those things for me. I see those people, and I’m reminded, I sit right alongside them, crying out, “Have Mercy!” I see someone living on the street, and it reminds me that I may not wear filthy clothes, but my garments are still dirty at times, maybe even more filthy when I don’t remember that. I see sin devastating other lives, and then still turn my back far too often from the face of my struggles, instead of admitting them. The list could go on.

My hope is in Christ. My hope is the hope of the tax collector beating his chest outside of the temple. He knows he is a dirty, filthy, sinner before the God of the universe.

And yet, he is justified. He is forgiven. He is made new.

He is you…

Amen.

A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?

Twitter: @adefeatedvictor