In follow up to Union Baptist Church’s Leadership Conference two weekends ago and its inspiring theme, “Going to the Next Level,” our Ministry of Congregational Care and Counseling ( a.k.a. “MC3”) had our annual retreat last weekend. Our focus for the half-day retreat was “Taking MC3 to the Next Level.” Our Stephen Ministers, Stephen Leaders, licensed mental health professionals, and grief support group facilitators gathered to reflect on this theme, spend some quality time together, and share appreciation for our Giver and our gifts. Building on Pastor Prince Rivers’s use of the text from Luke 5:1-11 and his challenge for us to launch into deep waters, I shared with our group a (relatively) recently popularized but otherwise obscure text: 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, alternatively known as “The Prayer of Jabez:”
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
We acknowledged the reality that although we are beloved children of God, others can impose upon us their own perceptions of who we are based on their stories. Because Jabez’s mother experienced the pain of childbirth, she named her son “Pain,” influencing his view of himself as well as other’s views of his identity. (Perhaps Jabez had even assumed undeserved responsibility for his mother’s pain.) Nevertheless, despite this disadvantage from birth, Jabez prayed this audacious prayer for God’s blessings and expansion in his life. Furthermore, Jabez requested protection from harm and freedom from pain.
While MC3 caregivers are trained to provide emotional and spiritual support for our disciples (i.e., Union Baptist Church members) and community members experiencing pain, we shared during our time of reflection, vulnerability, and prayer our own acknowledgement and experiences of pain. We recognized that while pain is a part of our human inheritance, pain can help us progress to the next level in our calling. We also found comfort in seeing that we can pray and act to be free from pain, and God grants out requests!
After participating in an envisioning exercise, sharing a meal, and brainstorming about serving in MC3 at the next level, our MC3 team was empowered to enlarge our personal as well as communal territories, and to watch God free us from pain. After all, pain happens to all of us, but need not define us for a lifetime. Will you be courageous in your prayers to be free from pain?
À Votre Santé (“To Your Health”),
Tonya D. Armstrong, Ph.D., M.T.S.