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Posts Tagged ‘grief’


Recently I had lunch with another pastor. Among the subjects we discussed was what I called the bodies in the backyard.

No, I’m not a serial killer though there a quite a few hamsters buried in our backyard.

Image result for cemeteryI referred to the losses we experience in the course of pastoral ministry. Lately the losses have been piling up: deaths, people who moved away, people who slammed the door on their way out or just slipped quietly out the back door. They are losses we feel, particularly if we pastor smaller churches (average churches in the big scheme of things).

As pastors we feel the loss, but often can’t stop to feel or grieve the loss. We must continue to fulfill our vocation. We have to perform the funeral, find the person to fill the holes in the ministry of the church. We have to compartmentalize to some degree to fulfill our responsibilities to God and His people. We can feel like Ezekiel who was commanded not to mourn after his wife dies (Ez. 24:15ff) as a symbolic act for when judgment came upon Judah.

We intend to go back and mourn those losses. But intentions aren’t always fulfilled. Life moves on and there are new plans to make, crises to attend to and people to shepherd (including our own families).

I’ve found it becomes increasingly difficult to go back and mourn those losses. The demands of ministry seem to forever get in the way. Vacations often don’t seem the time to do this. “Sorry kids, Dad needs to go off to a corner of the house and weep for 3 days” isn’t really how to approach it. As a solo pastor it is difficult to take those days off from administration, sermon prep and visitation to do it.

For instance, when I was in FL one of the elders passed away after a battle with cancer. In some ways that retired Navy captain was a father figure. He had a steady faith thru the trials of the congregation. He was steady as a rock when fighting the cancer that took his life.

But in the moment, I had to be there for his wife. I had to be there for a congregation that loved him deeply. I felt I needed to be the rock (not the Rock) for all of them. When I did go on vacation shortly thereafter I was cranky and aloof. Some old friends noticed and thought I was mad at them or something. No, I was needing to grieve but not realizing it.

This happens. We put them “in the back yard” hoping to get to it.

I once interviewed for a pastoral position that had a manse, and a cemetery behind the church next door. Sometimes I feel like I have one. There are epitaphs on the stones: Here Lies the Elder I loved. Here lies the person who couldn’t forgive me or other people. Here lies a family/co-laborer I was close to that moved away. There they are, calling like the blood of Abel.

Image result for saving private ryanI’m reminded of Saving Private Ryan when Captain Miller confesses with his hand shaking, “Every time I kill a man I feel farther from home.” The burden grows and we seem less of ourselves if we haven’t grieved those losses.

Thankfully the blood of Jesus speaks a truer word, a better word. He knows those losses too. Because of my union with Christ my loss is a loss to Him. He wants to bind our broken hearts.

He’s not condemning or chastising. He doesn’t raise His voice, break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoldering wick. That’s the key: to remember that sometimes (more than I’d like to admit) I’m the bruised reed and smoldering wick. He seeks me out so I’ll entrust that pain to him, and receive His comfort just like I’ve encouraged others to do.

Image result for smoldering wickLately I’ve found that I’m preaching to myself quite a bit, and a roomful of people are listening in. Even if they don’t realize it.

Pastor Appreciation Month has passed. But you can still appreciate your pastor, particularly for the burdens he bears with you, and those you know nothing about. Many pastors have a bunch of bodies in the back yard. They just don’t know how to tell you that. They can feel very alone with their pain.

Ministry includes suffering. The Christian life includes suffering (Philippians 1:29). It is in those moments Jesus invites us to come to Him with those burdens because we weren’t meant to carry them alone.

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I feel like I’ve been here before. That’s because I have.

I’ll be here again, too.

That’s the way it is when you love someone with Alzheimer’s. It’s like they die ten times over. There are these milestones. When they don’t know who you are anymore. It’s as if they cease to exist. Or maybe it is a part of you that dies on that day.

They they go to a nursing home, a memory care unit. It’s like they die again. That grief returns. I’m not liking this very much.

I knew it was coming. I mean it was inevitable. My father has been brave, valiant and persevering in loving the woman who no longer remembers his names, the 50+ years of marriage to him… nothing. But he still cared for her thru those Jekyll and Hyde moments. Thru the incontinence. Thru the moments of irrational fear.

He’s worn out. They were no longer sleeping in bed, but in the living room. Life reduced to her wants and desires.

He’s out of shape. Too many meals out. No longer taking walks because she couldn’t.

An opening came up. $12,000 a month for a double room. Is this what it has come to?

Thankfully another room at another facility became open. A single room for less than the double room. And Thursday he told us this will happen Monday. Heart hits the floor again. This is really happening.

The grief comes at inconvenient moments. I wish it would make an appointment for when I was available. But it comes when I need to write a sermon. I have to compartmentalize the pain so I can function. Best I can figure is that it “metabolizes” into anger.

I realize how isolated I am as a pastor. Where was the friend who would say “I’m taking you to lunch.”? I feel very much alone. Then again, I’ve been alone much of my life.

It happens in the parking lot of the vet’s office. “Why don’t you just cry there?” “What so someone can call the police about a crazy man crying in a parking lot? So I can freak out my daughter?” Stuff it again, so I can get her new ballet shoes and batteries for the irrigation system and van fob. Wait until it turns into anger, again. The horrible, freaking anger.

I called the kids to the table last night to give them a heads up. Daddy’s parents didn’t help him learn this stuff. I hate that I am this way, and long for something better for them. I want to go someone far away so I don’t hurt the ones I love. I’ve become the Hulk. Only I don’t become big and green. While I don’t lose my clothes, I do want to smash. Crying would be better for all involved. Just not in parking lots.

Back in 1992 Andrew hit South Florida. That is sort of an understatement. Steve Brown lost his house and offices. Soon thereafter his mother passed away. He would frequently tell people, “I’m homeless and my mother died.” It was part of his way of dealing with it.

Well, I’ve got a home, but my mother keeps dying.

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It is always difficult to share the story of a personal tragedy.  It can easily come across as narcissistic.  We live in a culture of people who love to share their pain.

Sometimes your pain is incredibly public.  But it doesn’t go away when the cameras leave your driveway.  You and your family continue in pain, and many continue to wonder how you’re doing.  Sometimes you realize that others may find help and healing from your story.  You see that some of the good that God brings of the evil is to help others who suffer similar loss.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  2 Corinthians 1

Mary Beth Chapman opens the door on their private lives and pain in Choosing to See: A Journey of Struggle and Hope.  She walks the tightrope, but pretty much remains on track.  She shares her struggles before Maria’s tragic death and following that horrible day.  She is honest but not ‘graphic’; she does not delve into unnecessary detail.  For instance, she shares that she was sexually assaulted (date rape?).  She does not focus on the event, but the ways it affected her.

She adds a good dose of humor as well.  This is very good since there is so much pain in this story.  All but the hardest of hearts will weep.

While she seeks to make some sense of what happened, and there is a little theology, she leaves room for mystery.  She doesn’t claim to have all the answers about why.  It is about faith struggling to trust without answers.  That struggle began many years before her husband was famous.

“Looking back, I’m not sure if this works orientation is what my church really taught, or if this was how I perceived it.”

I like the honesty here.  But she isn’t blaming others.  She recognizes the weaknesses of memory.  For instance, CavGirl swears my in-laws were here for CavSon’s Gotta-versary dinner.  It was my parents who were here.  Mary Beth admits she had a faulty understanding of our relationship of God.  She’s just not sure of its origin.  Unlike many who bash fundamentalist churches, she does not lay the blame at their feet.  I found that refreshing, even though I’m not a Fundamentalist.

(more…)

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My friend has been busy reading.  I am filled with envy and must repent.  She read another book by Joe Dallas.  This one was When Homosexuality Hits Home: What to Do when a Loved One Says They’re Gay.  Here’s what she says:

When Homosexuality Hits Home: What to Do When a Loved One Says they’re Gay was written by Joe Dallas, the author of Desires in Conflict.

In this book Joe Dallas speaks to parents or loved ones of someone who states they are gay. In the first chapter he likens finding out about the loved ones struggle to the process after a death or major traumatic event in our lives. We go through 5 general stages or phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And in this case it is the death of assumptions.

[This is what I was thinking about a week before I picked up this book. I’m stuck in the anger phase and starting my depression.]

Assumptions of how I, as a loved one, expected his life to be.

There is a chapter for parents, one for other family members with varying ranges of relational contact with the SSA relative, and one for when homosexuality hits a marriage.

Joe Dallas uses the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32 to show how family members may be feeling when one ‘comes out’. Also this verse from Jeremiah 31:16-17 hit home with me;

16 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your work,
declares the Lord,
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
17 There is hope for your future,
declares the Lord,
and your children shall come back to their own country.

Joe says you can’t miss the three fold message here:

God sees. He sees both your beloved daughter and son, and He sees your tears.

God preserves. He continues His efforts long after human effort has exhausted itself.

God holds out hope, for both you and your children.

This book gives practical advice from the heart, Joe tells of the 3 most common arguments for the pro-gay position. And he also asks us to walk a mile in the shoes of the gay loved one. To see what the son or daughter has been thinking, for how long they have been thinking it and what they might have to endure in their lifetime.

You will discover what to say and not to say, how to handle family visits, maintain balance and how to strengthen not weaken your relationhip.

On a personal note: my son is struggling with SSA and he still lives at home, we home school and go to church. He is struggling with his faith, his identity, and his sexuality. Being so close constantly puts a strain on our relationship and I, as his mom, have a very hard time keeping my mouth shut. I need to be constantly reminded that God loves him much more than I and God is in control of his life, I’m not. I need to be constantly reminded he is and always has been my son, whom I love more than life itself.

My one piece of advice now to anyone reading this would be to watch your words. Think before you speak, try to see your loved one the way God does. Remember you need the same grace they do, the same grace God freely gives.

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“I fear that we evangelical Christians, by making much of grace, sometimes thereby make light of sin.  There is not enough sorrow for sin among us.  We should experience more ‘godly grief’ of Christian penitence, like that sensitive and Christ-like eighteenth-century missionary to the American Indians David Brainard, who wrote in his journal on 18 October 1740: ‘In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness.'”  John Stott from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

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