What memories do you have from when you were eight years old?
Mine are fairly vague. I recall the two-story frame house where we lived in Canada. A construction set and toy soldiers to play with. Lots of boys books to read. An old garage where some friends and I organized a garage sale. A big brown cabinet radio where I listened to radio serials in the afternoon.
I do remember very clearly sitting by that radio in 1939 and listening to King George VI’s traditional year-end radio talk to the British Commonwealth.
It was a grim season. Canada, like the other Commonwealth countries, had declared war on Germany and recruits were already training nearby. And the whole world – including my parent’s store – was coming back from the Great Depression of the 30s.
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The king’s delivery that day was not inspiring. He had a speech impediment that he had worked hard to overcome; his voice was reedy, and constrained. Yet the words he quoted from a little known poet, Minnie Haskins, made a deep impression and have stayed with me ever since:
“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“‘Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
“And he replied:
“‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
“‘That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.’”
Now, as we begin this year, we are in another grim time, with terrorist threats, stock markets falling, a volatile political campaign, and the greatest flood of refugees ever. No wonder an NPR talk show host signed off recently saying, “I’d like to wish you a happy new year, but I don’t think it will be.”
I recall not only the king’s speech, but also the words of another king, David, who prayed to God with the faith that “even if the darkness shall cover me … there your hand shall lead me, your right hand hold me fast.”
As we start this year I claim those words for my children, grand-children, great-grand children, the children of the world, and again for myself.
When I was going through some physical therapy I asked my therapist: what is pain? He described how pain travels along our nervous system to signal the brain that something is broken, out of alignment, and needs fixing. The same is true in our emotions. When a relationship goes wrong it creates a “broken heart.” And it’s true in our souls, and in our world: when sin ruptures our relationship with God, ourselves, and others.
Our world needs “holding and healing hands,” even as Jesus with a touch of his hand healed sick bodies and sin-sick souls. We know that God brings much of his healing through human hands - like the doctors and teachers, loving family and friends, physical therapists and pastors, who have reached out to touch me when I have needed help.
But we also need that deeper saving touch that only God can bring.
So here’s a prayer as we look forward to the year ahead: “Lord, take my hand. Hold me. Guide me through whatever storms may come. And, Lord, here are my hands. Use them as You will to reach out to others, to heal at least a little part of our hurting world.”
Leighton Ford of Charlotte is a Presbyterian minister known internationally as preacher, writer and mentor.