I’m Elliott Cherry, pastor of Midtown Fellowship in Nashville, and I’ll be guest preaching at CSPC Sunday. Here’s how God has been at work in my life helping me live deeply.
“I’m one who is prone to avoid pain. I move fast, I move fun- don’t really have time to slow down or be sad. That’s kind of how I’m wired. Five years ago, my wife Britta and I had two kids and got pregnant with our third, when she miscarried. It was a disruption- I didn’t like it and my wife was sad. So my coping mechanism was just to move faster- ‘So sorry this happened, sorry you’re sad, but I can’t really handle you being sad all the time.’ I wasn’t saying that verbally, but I was saying it with my actions. Then about eight weeks later, I tore my ACL playing basketball and needed surgery. It was a physical stopping from the Lord. Suddenly, I couldn’t move fast! The church was very kind during that season. They gave me a month off preaching and said, ‘Hey, go get surgery. Go do rehab.’ Well in that month, the Lord got my attention not just about my pace, but about my willingness to dwell in the pain. I was physically in pain -having to sit with my pain- while my wife was in pain. God was doing a lot of good, deep soul work- slowing the pace down so I could actually feel the pain and sorrow around me. A month later, we got pregnant again, and Britta miscarried again. So it was kind of like, ‘Wait, I thought this had the fairy tale ending. There was the miscarriage and the surgery, Lord, and we learned our lessons. You don’t have to keep teaching us.’ But that just wasn’t the case at all. There was so much more sorrow. I was able to be very present in the pain, but still very angry and upset that this was how the storyline was going. So we kind of said, ‘Lord, we guess we’re not going to have any more kids. It’s what we wanted, but we guess it’s not going to happen again.’ Two months later, though, in October, we got pregnant again. Then, about eight weeks into that pregnancy, the bleeding started. We thought we were about to have a third miscarriage in nine months.
My wife was bleeding profusely, so we rushed to the emergency room. We were devastated once we got there. They were saying, ‘We’re going to have to abort the baby because Mom is going to die. If we don’t vacuum this baby out, Mom will die because she’s losing so much blood.’ It was a subchorionic hemorrhage, and it was just liters and liters of blood. I’d never seen so much blood in my life. They said, ‘The baby’s dead. That’s why you’re bleeding. But the baby’s not passing, so we have to get the baby out if Mom’s going to live.’ They took us back for an ultrasound, and the baby was alive and well- even literally did a flip, which was a crazy experience; never seen that. The baby was dancing and having a party! So they rolled us back into the ER and said, ‘Hey, I know you just saw a living baby, but we have to abort it because Mom’s still bleeding.’ Britta started weeping and said, ‘I don’t want to die tonight. But I don’t want the baby to die.’ We were thinking- what do we do? An OB who was on call came in and said, ‘I think we can send Mom home and get her out of this stressful environment. If she bleeds for the next couple hours, you’re going to have to come back and we’re going to have to make some decisions. But if she can get in her own bed -her own peaceful place- some of the bleeding might stop.’ And it did! Praise the Lord! So Britta was on bed rest for the next six months, keeping the baby alive and then delivering our baby girl. Her name is Talitha, which comes from the story in Mark 5 where Jairus’s daughter is dying, so people come to get Jesus. They’re interrupted by a bleeding woman. Jesus heals the bleeding woman. Then he makes it to Jairus’s house and they’re like, ‘You didn’t make it in time. The daughter’s dead.’ And He’s like, ‘This girl’s not dead.’ He walks into the room where the dead girl is and he says, ‘Little girl, wake up’, and of course she does. Talitha is Aramaic for ‘little girl; sunshine; precious one.’ We named her Talitha because of the way our experience mirrored that story. Talitha was born healthy in 2018. Since then we’ve had another miscarriage, another birth, and a surprise -baby five- is due in December.
The Lord loved me enough to slow me down. His walking with us through our pain has really transformed me –and is transforming me- to be present with pain, which I would not do on my own. Psalm 46:10 –‘Be still and know that I am God’- has been a huge carrying verse for me, because to be still really means to be present with pain. If you get still long enough, there’s pain, loss, sorrow, dashed hopes. The stillness is where the pain usually becomes very visceral, but so does the Lord. God’s really taught me that to steer toward the pain is to steer toward Him- because He’s with the present me, not the me that’s running a thousand miles an hour. There’s this shame-based, fear-based, insecurity-based drive in everybody, especially pastors. You feel like you always have to be doing more to atone for your inadequacies. But the Lord’s presence with me is enough to cover those. And if there’s nothing to prove and no atoning to be done, I can literally just be in the moment –offering the gift of presence- with whoever God’s placed before me. Some people naturally wonder what it means to experience the sweetness of God’s presence. I’d say it starts with the awareness that every day, I’m faced with dozens of choices- to either choose pain, or choose some version of numbing or shame. A trusting response is to believe that choosing the pain is actually where you’ll find the sweetness of God. Numbing or shaming will bring some relief. But you actually don’t want relief- you want healing. Healing only comes through steering toward the pain. Also, without practicing some version of solitude, whether it’s five minutes on a given day or 50 minutes, I won’t have the ability to experience the sweetness of His presence. That can literally even be a minute and a half between meetings, saying, ‘Alright, Lord, I’m here with you. You’re here with me.’ It doesn’t have to be three hours of prayer and fasting and weeping and ashes every morning. There are seasons, of course, and you’ll have ups and downs. But it’s important to have some regular rhythms so you can say, ‘I’ve spent enough time with living water to know where the well is. I’m still thirsty for it.’”