Many years ago, when I made the transition from being a campus minister to being a local church pastor, I realized that my “new parish environment” would be presenting me with a whole new set of pastoral needs. Instead of dating dilemmas, exam anxieties and other challenges of young adulthood; I’d be presented with life-changing illnesses, career derailments and heart-breaking losses. True to my expectations, this is what life as a pastor has brought me. And even though it has stretched me in a lot of ways, I wouldn’t go back on the growth that I’ve experienced as a person and as a minister, nor would I trade an easier journey for the demonstrations of God’s faithfulness that I’ve seen along the way.
Having said that, there are days when the difficulties confronting the people among whom I serve seem to be exceptionally numerous and unusually heart-rending. Just this afternoon, I found out…
- A woman in my church who has battled numerous health problems in recent years was diagnosed with a lung infection that it may be difficult for her to fight off.
- A woman who recently underwent a double mastectomy discovered that her cancer has impacted some surrounding tissue and now will be contemplating several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
- A woman who just completed a series of chemo treatments for breast cancer and who hoped that this might bring an end to her fight was told by her doctor that he recommends radiation, too.
- A woman whose elderly mother is already dealing with dementia was told – that in all likelihood – her mother also has a form of blood cancer and now must decide what kind of treatment, if any, to pursue.
- A man who is in his prime and has a son in high school suffered a stroke.
- A woman in a former church of mine who was very dear to me is approaching death, and the family would like for me to say a few words at her funeral when the time comes.
There are other issues out there: people dealing with loss and illness and marital discord and more. And please understand; I’m not complaining. I consider it to be an honor to serve these individuals…and an even greater privilege to pray for them and to seek to be a faithful reminder of God’s presence in the midst of their trials.
But on days like this, “praying” and “trying to communicate God’s presence” can seem like mighty small and less-than-adequate things to do. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in prayer. And without those reminders that God is with us…well…how could we muddle through. But still, there are those times when it feels like a “magic pastor wand” that offers up some form of more visible assistance should have come with my seminary degree.
In the end, all I can do is to offer the prayer that believers down through the ages have offered: “Kyrie, Eleison.” Lord, have mercy. And that prayer I DO offer…along with the humble recognition that it has never been about the kind of assistance that I can offer. It is the Father alone who is our help in ages past; our hope for years to come.
So Lord, please do pour out your mercy on all these I’ve mentioned, along with all those others in whose lives you’ve allowed me to have a part. And please have mercy on me, too. May I serve your purposes in them, and in me, and in the broken but wonderful Body of Christ, which continues to embody your grace in the world.