One thing that takes getting used to as a pastor is the moments of life that you are invited to be a part of by the people to whom you minister. I’m not sure if it’s so much getting used to them as it is realizing the magnanimity of them and how powerful they are.
As a pastor, I am called to step into people’s lives in the midst of joy, sorrow, tragedy, distress, and so many other situations. In the midst of scary moments, in the midst of happy moments, in the midst of tearful moments, people often ask their pastors to join them.
This past week, I was asked to step into the midst of a family’s grief as they said goodbye to a father and grandfather. I did not know the man, but was able to spend some time with the family hearing stories about him. The value in times like that are actually twofold for me. First of all, it helps me to get a picture of the person who is gone, to see a window into the souls of all of those who have been impacted by him or her. But it also gives the family the chance to begin the grieving process by telling stories and remembering their loved one.
A year ago, my friend and his wife had their third child. He was in the NICU for the first week of his life and there were some scary moments. I traveled up to northern Virginia to be with them and was privileged to baptize the baby in the NICU. Tragically, after recovering from his initial difficulties, that baby was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and died on his 6 month birthday. In the midst of that, I was invited to lead and speak at the funeral service.
I’ve sat with couples preparing for marriage and asked them difficult questions, working through some of the issues that will help them in the long run. I’ve waited in hospital rooms with people whose loved ones have a matter of hours left on this earth. I consider a tremendous privilege to be able to do such things, humbled by the invitation into such intimate moments of life with these families.
I’ve been through some of these moments myself as well. Having lost both of my parents in the last 2 years, I have been the one inviting pastors into those intimate moments with me and my family. In fact, hours before my father died, I sat there with just him and the pastor from the church he was part of in Williamsburg. The pastor’s gift of presence and sensitivity were so rich.
Experiencing some of these things myself has heightened my own sensitivity to the needs of people as they journey through these experiences. While it doesn’t make me an expert, it at least gives me a sympathetic soul with a small understanding of the emotions involved.
I will continue to be invited into these intimate moments with people whom I know and love. These moments are not always easy and happy, they require a strength beyond what I have on my own. I rest and hope in God alone, for he is my rock and my salvation. In these moments, I have the opportunity to let others know this source of my strength. My hope and prayer is that they would see this source and would run to the same as they journey through these experiences themselves.