November 8, 2005

Finding Frances

1545 page6 capt has been more than three years since Frances' letter crossed my desk. Yet I still think of it, if not daily, then certainly weekly. Whenever I feel misunderstood, alienated, or even discontented, I remember Frances and her note. Then I strive to be different, better--and I seek to find my own Frances.

Let me explain. The letter from Frances was addressed to the Adventist Review. It was quite long, and about half of it had to be trimmed for publication.1 The important parts were kept, however, and this dear woman's evocative message came through loud and clear. Loud enough and clear enough, in fact, to cause dozens of readers to write letters to the Review--all for Frances.

Here's some of what she wrote: "I recently lost my husband of 45 years. . . . No one bothered to find out why we weren't attending church when the cancer made it impossible to get around. After the funeral I heard nothing from the pastor of the church. My health has failed, and I am unable to work.

"I certainly do not expect my pastor to physically do anything. He has a very large congregation that includes businesspeople, doctors, and others who are financially able to do much for the church. I have nothing now. No one on the pastoral staff has written or come by. They haven't cared about one lonely, scared, sick widow who has stopped coming to church. . . . I have regretted the years of dedication to my church. Could my faith have been better placed?

1545 page6"Why doesn't anyone care? I need to reach out to God, but there are times when I can't do it alone anymore.--Frances."

The pain dripping from these words affects me as much now as it did years ago. Why doesn't anyone care? How, in such a caring and loving church as our own, could a faithful member nearing the end of a long life of service to the church seep through the gaps? How could she be so sad and desperate as to wonder that her devotion was ill-founded? What happened, and, more important, how could a situation like this be reversed?

As mentioned, after its publication we received many letters from persons touched by the widow's words. All were sympathetic. Some were caustic in their dressing-down of the woman's local church. Many wanted Frances to know that she need not feel alone, that she wasn't alone, and they offered to correspond with her directly--offers of friendship were numerous.2 There were also letters of elucidatory advice, and those are the ones that have left the deepest impression on me--and have had me looking for other "Franceses" since.

The advice was simple. When you feel like ancient mud beneath the feet of the world, trod upon and pounded flat, find someone you can help--someone else who has perhaps been pounded flatter. It is tragic when one isn't comforted by others, especially those they'd expect the solace from, but it is doubly tragic when that one keeps the hurt inside and doesn't themselves become a faithful friend.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry3 said, "We forget that there is no hope of joy except in human relations." We too can find--and must find--joy in our relationship with God (He is the source of it!); nonetheless, it is true that we are "pack animals" needing human companionship. We especially need that human contact when dealing with difficult issues and/or events. But we cannot always wait as the beneficiary. Helping someone else will always buoy the spirits.

The advice to Frances--to write letters to other missing members, to offer her home as a place for Bible study, to phone other shut-ins, to help grade mail-in Bible studies--was practical and sound. It did not make light of her situation. Admitting that someone needed to reach in to her, the advice also encouraged her to reach out from the situation.

The golden rule outlined in the Gospels isn't only for the sunny days. When I am at my shoddiest, I think of Frances and find someone (usually a person I know) I can help--a kind word, a new pair of shoes, a trip to the market, a special meal--and I become active. My sorrow or pain becomes lighter.

Finding Frances is just as therapeutic for me as for the recipient. Maybe even more so.

1 Adventist Review, June 2002 NAD edition, p. 4.
2 Some letters were forwarded to Frances. And as discouraged as she was, I hope her church family realized her need and acted upon it.
3 French aviator and writer, 1900-1944.