At our last Voters’ Assembly, I said it was dangerous for a pastor to reveal too much personal information about himself. Why? Some in their “empire building” use such information to hurt and harm the pastor to achieve some goal. It’s the end-justifies-the-means mindset, which may be fine if you are something other than the Church.
Ask any pastor and he will tell you the same—if he’s honest. Some slandered me; others stabbed me in the back. It seems I sometimes receive an unbroken litany of complaints because someone doesn’t get his version of the “church” he wants.
So, pastors cover their backsides and guard themselves in self-preservation. Here’s the danger: This keeps a pastor from being the best shepherd he can be. Such self-protection stifles his ability to help, keeps him from becoming close as he serves others, and shunts his ability to love.
No more will I be this way. My last trip home to care for my parents with Alzheimer’s made everything too real for me—and I still am not recovered.
I went to my parents with a sturdy, theological girding, which did not rattle, but passed through this gauntlet of suffering all the stronger. What I did not expect was the emotional and physical exhaustion. The events of caring for two parents with Alzheimer’s, childhood abuse from my mother, and not having walked this road before as a son left me spent, empty, broken.
Part of this exhaustion is dealing with grief. Everyone deals with such sorrow; no one escapes it in this life, though we try at every turn. Here’s part of the problem: our lifestyle of hiding our faces away from grief may be part of our inability to cope with it when we can no longer deny its presence.
We often live busy, shallow lives, disconnected from one another. We use artificial means to “pep” ourselves up to skirt the sadness around every corner. We go to get entertained to mask what lies underneath; sometimes, we even expect this from the Church. Most of the time, this works. We slip past a particular sadness, dancing here or there, denying what is around us.
Then, everything crashes. Something so distressing takes place that our happy dance away from sadness dies its death. What do we do? We’ve trained ourselves in ways to cope, which will only fail us in this greatest time of need. We are not here for one another because we’re all been doing the shallow, happy dance, too busy to do otherwise.
No more. Yesterday evening, I sighed, Sheri in my gaze: “I wish I had more to give you.” Sheri’s eyes turned toward me: “I’m not asking you to give more.” “But I want to be able to give more, but nothing is left.” How can a husband speak such words to his wife? Something is wrong!
How did I wind up in a place where nothing was left to give? No doubt, this emptiness was the result of taking care of my Alzheimer’s-afflicted parents—but not only. My last three “vacations” were taking care of my parents and recovering from an emergency appendectomy. I spend too much time working, too busy as pastor, where my vocation as husband suffers. No more.
To endure through the darkest times of grief demands a good training ground. The Church is to be this training ground, this hospital where we bear one another’s griefs—for real. To do this, we must set aside the shallow busyness of our lives so we can feel what is taking place, end the denial, and halt our workarounds. But more than this: We have to learn to be real with one another and be here for one another. Jesus didn’t fake it and neither should we in His Church.
Now, if we don’t, we’ll keep ourselves from the training grounds, which prepare us for the sorrows to come—those too powerful to deny. If we arrive unprepared, we won’t be “trained” to die well—the final time of testing. God prepares us for these events by what we hear (His Word coming to us) but also by what we experience, both given and received.
God created us as physical beings for a reason. Caring for one another, then, includes physicality—being with someone, touching someone, loving someone. Our culture over-sexualizes touch where we are often scared to touch one another. Don’t let the sickness of our culture keep you from receiving what is wholesome from someone else—and the good you have to give.
We need to be here for one another, but how do we arrive there? How do we shut down the shallow busyness of our lives so we can live for real? We’ll figure this out, for to do otherwise is not to live our lives as the Church.
Are you ready? I am. But first, I’m going home to cook breakfast for my wife. She needs me, and I love her.