University Congregational Church
Nov. 18, 2018
“Mind, Body, Spirit, Voice”
At a recent murder trial in Wichita, two UCC members sat across the courtroom from one another. One UCC member was sitting with the parents of the murder victim because of a close and long relationship with them. She went to the trial to offer support, consolation, and validation to the parents of the woman who was murdered.
On the other side of the courtroom was another member of UCC. She was sitting with the parents of the man on trial for murder. She went to the trial to offer support, consolation, and validation to his parents because she had a close and long relationship with them.
Both of the UCC members were there out of love and concern for people who were going through a horrific tragedy. It was clear that both families lost their children – one to prison and one to murder. There were absolutely no winners in that courtroom.
It was happenstance that two UCC members knew the respective families involved in the trial. But I am proud to say that people from UCC stood in solidarity with their friends at such a painful time. It is difficult to imagine a more poignant moment.
Last week, Paul spoke about God’s justice in regard to human suffering. One of the answers to human suffering is sacred vulnerability. This is what Christians are called to do and to be – a part of God’s justice in the world.
Today, I want to talk specifically about being a part of God’s justice in the world by using validation. The definition of validate is: to make valid; substantiate; or confirm. We all want to feel as if we have value and worth. We are designed to want validation and to feel like our lives have significance. The Bible is full of validation for humanity.
• Genesis 1 tells us that we are made in God’s image
• Jeremiah reminds us that God’s plans for us are personal and good.
• Romans tells us that God is on our side and that God gifted us with unique gifts, talents, and strengths.
• The gospel of John tells us that even when we are unlovable, God loves us.
• The psalms are full of validation, including that we are like the apple of God’s eye.
Our traditional word for today is from Psalm 37:5-6:
Open up before God, keep nothing back;
God will do whatever needs to be done:
He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day
And stamp you with approval at high noon. The Message
Instead of gaining personal worth from what we accomplish, Christians are told over and over again that we are loved simply because we are children of God. We do not have to perform or earn or accomplish anything! Our lives have meaning because we are loved by God. This is the ultimate validation.
If you think about the healing stories of Jesus, you may remember that most every healing story starts out with Jesus validating the person. When people came carrying a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing, the first words Jesus said, “Take heart!” were words of validation and assurance. Jesus healed his heart before he healed his body. (Matt. 9)
When the woman with an issue of blood came to Jesus, his words were the same, “Take heart!” Imagine how depressing, isolating, and hopeless her condition was. In the gospel of Luke, we learn that she had spent all her livelihood on doctors and could not be healed by anyone. In the gospel of Mark, we are told that she had suffered many things from physicians and was not better – but worse. And Jesus said, “Take heart!” I can imagine that he said it with tenderness and compassion. He validated her after many years of suffering.
I believe these stories tell us something essential about God’s justice in regard to age, infirmity, depression, and human frailty. A significant piece of healing is found in validating a person. One psychologist calls it “companioning”. It is what the two people in our church did a couple of weeks ago when they went to the trial. Validation of a person’s self has healing power all of its own. Listening to a person; giving them our time and our ears; listening without judgment; being present with them… these are validating actions. And they have healing power.
We do a great disservice to people when we focus exclusively on physical healing. Compassion includes validation of the person’s self.
I have been fascinated by a generontology specialist, Naomi Feil, for many years. She grew up in the Montefiore Home for the Aged, because her parents worked there. After going away for her own training, she developed what is called Validation Theory and has worked with elderly people for decades. If you google her, you may find a powerful video of her working with a very old woman who had been diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease 9 years before. She was non-verbal. The patient, Gladys, was an African America Christian. Naomi Feil is a Caucasian Jewish woman. But Naomi Feil stroked Gladys’s face and sang Christian songs to her… “Jesus Loves Me” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. As she sang, Gladys began to hit her hand on the arm of her chair in rhythm to the music. Naomi Feil continued to stroke Gladys’s face and sing in a soft voice the songs of Gladys’s faith. “He’s Got the Whole World” she sang. Out of nowhere, Gladys began saying, “In His Hands” at the right moment in the song. She sang it repeatedly and as a refrain. It is a moment of divine healing.
Naomi Feil teaches us that validation is the key to reaching people who have withdrawn from the physical world, especially those who seem demented. She prefers the term “disoriented” and says, “They have intuitive wisdom to survive by restoring the past. They replace damaged logical thinking with feeling. They return to past pleasures to survive the bleak present. They focus on resolving the reason for having lived.”
When an older person has diminished eyesight and is calling out “Mommy!” to a brick wall, Naomi Feil suggests validating the person instead of arguing about the physical reality of a mommy long deceased and a brick wall. She suggests asking about that person’s mom, “Oh, there’s your mom! What do you want to say to her?” She argues that people re-live the past to restore their integrity and to resolve past hurts.
When an older person sucks, hums, taps, rocks, touches, or folds repeatedly, it is often a memory they are repeating in their mind’s eye. Naomi Feil finds reasons for older people’s actions and emotions and tries to validate them so that they can process and affirm their pasts before they die.
While Feil’s work is with the elderly, just imagine what a difference it would make for all of us if we applied validation theory to all the people we interact with in a day, a week, or longer! This is not throwing out constant compliments to people in a happy-go-lucky way. This is true validation needed by all of us – words that affirm our very souls.
• What if we looked into each person’s eyes and said something kind?
• What if we took time to listen to our co-workers and complimented them on something they did well?
• What if we went home today and wrote a love note to a spouse, a child, a grandchild, a sibling, and affirmed them for being the person they are?
• What if we built up our friends and spoke words of appreciation to them?
• What if we came to church and spoke to one another with assurance and gratitude for what each person brings to this community?
What a difference it would make in our families and beyond!
I know a man who takes the time to write a personal note to 4 people each day. This is a man who is busy, and who has more than enough to do each day. Yet, he takes the time and finds a reason to affirm 4 people every day. Over the years he has been doing this, can you imagine the impact it makes? Assuming he only does this Monday – Friday, that’s 20 people per week. With 52 weeks in a year, that is more than 1,000 people each year.
When we were considering topics for this sermon series on God’s justice, we listed the problems of ageism, physical and mental health. We named it “Mind, Body, Spirit, Voice”. How can we as people of faith address these problems in our society? How can we be a part of God’s justice – God’s vision – in the world? How can we help people who are elderly, people who struggle with physical or mental health problems?
We go to court with them and we sit with people on both sides of the courtroom. We look people in the eye and we affirm their worth. We thank people for their work and their words. We speak lovingly and kindly. We listen for the meaning behind the words and we listen some more. And we take a lesson from Jesus when he met hurting people by saying, “Take heart!”
Feil, Naomi. “Validation; The Feil Method”. 1982.
www.sermonseedbed.com “The Grace That Validates” by Mikki Lawrence.