Monday, September 29, 2008

Joys, not stresses--

I want to speak of joy. Anyone who is or has been a pastor, understands the deep joys involved in the work.

In recent days, I have known days that to some, might seem reasons for burnout. But in the midst of these days, I've found joy. Let me explain.

About four months ago, I received the call that a gentleman from my congregation had pancreatic cancer. I met regularly with him and his wife and other family members over the next weeks and months. We prayed and shared our fighting-hopes and finally, hung our heads together when those hopes were gone.

Then our talks became deeper and more openly loving. I told my friend and his wife that I'd travel to a nearby state with them for his final funeral service. He shared with me some scripture and words that God had given him. I used them in his funeral service here, and at the distant site. He said, "It seems to me that God said 'Trust me.' and 'My grace is sufficient for you.'"

On a Monday, I sat with him, his talking coming in brief whispers. His wife told me he couldn't make it long. A hospital bed was delivered to his home, and his son and I helped assemble it, and put the sheets on. Two nights later, he died. It was nighttime, and the family called, saying I didn't need to come.

I hurried to the home, not stressed, but unwilling to miss sharing love with his family in those mystical moments. We sat together for a couple of hours. It was difficult and sad. It was a time filled with peace. The men from the funeral home came and picked-up my friend's body just before midnight.

We prayed. I went home tired, and so fulfilled. THIS is what God has gifted me to do.

On the night of visitation at the funeral home (the night before the local funeral) I had to leave for a while to see a family who's wife and mother had attempted to take her life. I drove the thirty minutes to see them, and sensed comfort moving from my soul to theirs. Christ was with us midst the beeping machines in the intensive care unit. And then I returned to the visitation--fulfilled yet again.

Again I thought, "This is who I am. I am a shepherd. I love people well, because that's how our Lord made me."

But this week I prepare for next week's board meeting. And that doesn't feel so much like shepherding.



Philip Rogers said...

Here's the thing I'm noticing as I deal my struggles with depression. Having become more transparent and honest in a public sort of way has, by itself, been therapeutic. An outcome of this process has been the establishment of what I have called a "Coping with Depression" group that meets monthly at our church. It's purpose is not to try to be directly therapeutic, but to be a venue through which people can experience understanding, education, support, and hope in dealing with depression. I have had two meeting so far with 22 and 27 people attending. 80 percent of those attending the first meeting returned for the second.

We have a 90 minute format for our meetings. We begin with a short review of what the is intended to accomplish. This is followed by a personal testimony from someone who shares their personal struggles with depression. We then invite someone to come as a speaker and resource person to discuss some aspect of depression. In our last meeting we had a Christian psychologist talk and answer questions. We close with me sharing a short spiritual insight.

The response to our first two meetings has been extremely positive. One of the things we most hope to accomplish is to encourage people to get treatment and help with their depression. This is something that has already been happening with a number of folks who have come.

For me, this has been one of those "joys" of ministry that I have been experiencing.

David said...

Thanks Phil. I see this as a powerful example of honesty. Also a healing tool. Thanks for your willingness to lead.

Could it be that most of us--or most of me--fear such vulnerability. Perhaps your openness is a bi-product of your longevity in one pastorate?

You are an example I'd like to follow.

Anonymous said...

Phil, I have a difficult time trusting those who hear my vulnerable thoughts. I have been burned real bad by people I thought loved and cared about me. The person I thought I could share anything with, shared that with others. How do you share knowing that your transparency may be exploited?

Anonymous said...

David - I have come to realize and shamefully admit that when I get to the point where I focus on the stresses and not the joys that my focus is completely wrong. I have a heavy load right now. Most of these items on my back are ministry related, but are not necessary for me to be involved in. I seem to say yes before thinking how much time that particular yes will take. Or, how much time it will take away from what matters most.

I need to return my focus to what matters and not blur my vision by adding this or that.

Thanks for sharing your joys of the previous week. It made me stop and think about the recent joys I have experienced.

Here's to the joys.

david said...

Well put Duane. Hopefully Phil will be able to respond to your questions.
You are a treasured brother.

Philip Rogers said...

Duane, I'm not sure I can really answer your question about being burned. I suspect my own situation is somewhat unique in that I've pastored here for 30 years and have developed somewhat of a reputation for tranparency over the years. However, I have only recently been more fully confessional about my personal struggles with depression. I have done this myself, from the pulpit, so I'm not worried about how anyone will exploit confidence. I am sure there are those who are judgmental of me, but the benefits for others who also struggle with depression have far outweighed that.

I wonder, however, if your question about being exploited has more to do with how difficult it is for us to find safe persons with whom we can be transparent about what we are going through. My experience is that ministry is extremely lonely for the ministry who is going through very hard times personally, especially if those struggles are emotional. That is where Dave's forum has potential for good, in my opinion. One of the things I am wanting most to explore is how we might provide some safe places where ministers can find understanding, support, and healing.

Not sure this addresses your question. I'll be glad to dialogue more.