A Luxury Denied

I’m an introvert.  A quiet person.  I don’t like crowds.  I prefer one-on-one interactions.  I dislike small talk.  I’m very private and not very expressive of my emotions.  The idea of people looking at me is uncomfortable.

I’m also a pastor.  And this means that despite my preferences, I don’t always get things they way I want them.  People are always looking at me.  I am expected to deal with large groups of people as necessary.  My quietness and privateness needs to be tempered with the understanding that my parishioners need to know me at some level.  My vocation requires that I give up some of my preferences because of the role I serve in my faith community.

This sounds easy enough until it comes to the issue of grieving and loss.

A colleague of mine suffered a tragic and unexpected loss this week.  His wife died unexpectedly.  She was on life-support for a few  days but it was apparent that it was the machines keeping her alive after her accident and that no recovery was to be expected.  When they took her off the machines she died.

It was three days before the other pastors in our area knew about the situation.  The information came from another associate that works closely with this person, and came with the tag line we hear often – the family asks that everyone would respect their privacy during this difficult time.

That’s not-so-secret code for don’t call, don’t e-mail, don’t inquire, don’t offer help,  don’t stop by.  It’s the equivalent of a No Soliciting sign on a front door, intended to keep others away.

I understand the motivation.  I understand the desire to hunker down alone to sort things out and come to grips with a situation.  It will be my instinct as well.

But it’s an instinct my vocation requires me to fight, as I think this brother should as well.

Ministers serve a public role.  One of the aspects of that role is to serve people in times of grief, in times when they deal with the loss of a loved one whether expected or unexpectedly.  We’re expected to be there in whatever way the family can allow us to be, as a source of comfort not in and of ourselves but in who we represent.  It’s one of those times when a Christian minister is supposed to embody the presence of Christ.  It’s a palpable reminder that they aren’t alone, and that by the grace of God the deceased is not alone either.

And as such we need to recognize it is our responsibility to model this when we ourselves suffer.  We aren’t superheroes who don’t need the comfort of others.  We aren’t omniscient and perfectly and always aware of the presence and love of Christ.  We aren’t immune to the agonizing desire to know why, or the brutal accusations  of the conscience or our Enemy, telling us if only we had done such-and-such, or not done such-and-such, this wouldn’t have happened.  The deceased would still be alive.  We would not be aching.

We need to model an openness in times of grief and loss, even (or perhaps especially) when it is counter-intuitive.  We need to model a grief that allows itself to be embraced by the community of faith, supported in prayer and in presence.  If we want our people to understand this and to commit  themselves to this for themselves and their loved ones, we need to show  that we aren’t above it either.  We need it just as much.

I grieve for my brother and his loss, but have no way to express it.  That’s difficult.  And as an introvert (as I think he is as well) I recognize that he doesn’t want those expressions.  Might not be able to handle them.  Has no response for them.  That’s fine.  A response isn’t necessary and we need to accept this.  A perfectly composed reception is not necessary or expected.  But I need to be willing to allow people to grieve with me and for me in my loss.

I encourage you not to try and keep others at arms length in the midst of grief and loss and tragedy.  I understand why you’re inclined to.  Truly, I do.  I see it a lot.  But struggle against it, to find a way to allow others into and alongside your grief.

And I pray for the grace and strength of God the Holy Spirit to follow this advice myself if and when it becomes applicable.

 

 

 

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