Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Suffering Together

There are a lot of hurting people in this world, and everybody needs love. As if recent things like the bombing in Boston, the explosion in Texas and earthquakes all around the world didn't make that clear enough, I was reminded of it again recently as I was watching the 2012 movie, The Lucky One.

At the beginning, we meet Sgt. Logan Thibault (Zac Efron), a U.S. Marine serving his third tour of duty in Iraq. There, in the desert sand, he discovers a photograph of an American woman. As he stops to look at it, there's an explosion nearby! It would have killed him if he hadn't stopped when he did! Fast forward several months, and we see that Sgt. Thibault still has his lucky photograph. Although he has no idea who the girl in the picture is, he and others believe her to be his guardian angel, because he has stayed safe despite several dangerous encounters!

The sergeant is happy to get to go home after his tour, but like many veterans, he seems to be plagued by memories of life in a combat zone. While he's not sure exactly what's wrong, he feels like he just doesn't fit in anymore. Does he have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? They never out-and-out say that he does, but he might.

(NOTE: Studies estimate that 1 in 5 military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan develop PTSD)

Thankfully, Logan somehow stumbles across a photo online of a lighthouse, and amazingly, he recognizes it as the same one in the picture of his guardian angel. Looking for a place to belong, Logan makes the difficult decision to leave his home in Colorado and walk to the small community in Louisiana where the lighthouse is, to see if he can find the woman who saved his life, just to thank her. The quiet drifter eventually finds the woman in the photograph, but before he can explain why he's come, things begin to get complicated.

The girl from the picture, Beth (Taylor Schilling), is hurting because her brother was killed overseas, and she doesn't know if he died defending his country, or if he was the victim of friendly fire. Though a year has passed since he died, the wounds are deep, and some days are harder than others. She tries her best to mask the pain, but she occasionally has fits of grief and anger, only compounded by the fact that she doesn't have closure about how or why her brother died. Remember that grieving is a process, and tears and pain are natural!

Beth is also hurting because she's been through a divorce, and her husband, a local cop named Keith Clayton (Jay R. Ferguson), continues to bully her into doing what he wants by threatening to take away custody of their son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart). Ben also suffers because of the divorce. He wonders why his dad left them, and he struggles to find a good role model.

Officer Clayton's abusive nature is particularly highlighted because he tries to control who is in his ex-wife's life, even using his influence to push Logan around and trying to get Beth to send Logan away. Keith is the villain through most of the story, yet in the end, we see that he also is hurting. The truth is that sometimes people act in controlling ways towards others because they feel like they've lost control of their own lives, and it's very sad!

In the midst of all these things, however, Logan sets a pretty good example for us. He's not perfect, by any means, but he reminds us through his actions - or lack thereof - that it's important not to lash out in anger towards others, even when they do their best to hurt us, because by doing so, all you do is escalate the violence and give the other person fuel for the fire (a point also made in 42, the new Jackie Robinson movie).

In addition to turning the other cheek, Logan shows us what it means to be a good listener. Over and over, there are scenes where he remains silent and just lets others talk while he internalizes things they said. He is observant, so when he responds, he has something meaningful and sincere to add. Sometimes - especially when people are hurting - they don't need your advice near as much as they just need you to listen and care. Just being present can help that person to experience the comfort of the presence of Christ, if they know they can talk and their concerns are being heard.

Logan also gives a model of the kind of grace Jesus offers. Even though Keith is mean to him and to Beth - and even though Logan finally has to advise Beth about how to stand up for herself against Keith - still, Logan acts respectfully and mercifully. In one pivotal scene, Keith draws his gun against Logan in anger. Logan thinks fast, using his military training to take the gun away from Keith, and it would have been easy for Logan to get his revenge on the corrupt cop in that moment! No one would have blamed him! But instead, Logan takes the ammo out of the weapon and promptly returns it. It takes a lot of grace and inner strength to do what Logan did, and Keith didn't immediately appreciate it, but eventually, it makes a difference and leads to a change in Keith's heart.

Just as Christ has forgiven us, we must also forgive others. Just as he has dealt mercifully with us, so he expects mercy from us towards those who seem not to deserve it... because the truth is that we never deserved it, either! None of us do!

Logan chose to stay with Beth, Ben and even Keith, even though they were hurting people with tough issues. He chose to suffer with them, and this is a wonderful thing, because it's what we're all called to do!

In Revelation 7, John sees a vision of Heaven, with a great crowd of people dressed in white, and at first, he doesn't know who they are, but someone explains to him in Verse 14, "These are they which came out of great tribulation" (KJV) (NOTE: a "tribulation" is a test or trial used to separate what's useful from what's not). The important thing to remember about this verse, to me, is that in order to "come out" of something, you have to be in it first! It's part of our calling, then - as the people of God - to be in those trials with people, to suffer alongside them as we point them toward hope and a better way!

Pee Wee Reese models Christian love
When I wrote about 42 last week, there was a scene I didn't mention that really illustrates what I'm talking about here. Pee Wee Reese comes to Branch Rickey one day, upset because he's received an insulting letter from his home town of Cincinnati. Someone is upset because Pee Wee Reese (a white man) is on the same team as Jackie Robinson (a black man). But Mr. Rickey isn't all that concerned about the letter, and he shows Pee Wee why: Jackie Robinson has received dozens of letters, far worse than the one Pee Wee received - letters threatening to kill him, letters threatening to hurt his wife and daughter. Realizing the courage Jackie shows by continuing to go out on the field every day, Pee Wee decides it's important to suffer with his friend. When the team goes to Cincinnati and fans begin to boo, Pee Wee Reese walks over and puts his arm around Jackie Robinson, and he just takes the time to tell to Jackie that he understands things are hard now, but one day, things will be better. In the same way, we can suffer alongside others, and we can also show them how Jesus gives us a reason to hope for a better future!

"Maybe tomorrow, we'll all wear 42 so they won't be able to tell us apart!"
- Pee Wee Reese to Jackie Robinson in 42

"Sometimes, finding the light means you must pass through the deepest darkness."
- from Zac Efron's opening monologue in The Lucky One

Even though they were less than perfect, Logan Thibault, Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese chose to stand up with and for those others who were suffering, and in so doing, they give us a model of Christian love that reminds us what we ought to be doing every day.

Where do you see suffering today? Who needs your shoulder to lean on?

Who really needs to experience grace, mercy, love and forgiveness from you?

Do you have what it takes to be a bold example of the love of Jesus for others today?

1 comment :

  1. I love the quotation from Zac Efron. It's so true. It makes me want to watch that movie, now.


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