There has been a tragedy in our household.
How should the people who know and love us respond? As a pastor, I know what to do and have written about possible responses many times, but now I was on the other side. My family was suffering and desperately needed compassionate, loving ministry. How would the church help us?
You notice acts of caring. I was amazed at how little gestures meant so much to us. We received cards and letters from people who suffered a similar tragedy in their own family. Their willingness and courage to share their experiences was a tremendous help for us. We took delicious delight each morning simply going to the mailbox and reading the many cards and letters offering prayers and support. Our home looks like a florist shop. One kind soul sent money to cover travel and meals. A plate of cookies always seemed to come at the right time.
You also notice the silence. I was surprised at how many friends never said a word. Even among fellow professional caregivers, people who were leaders in my field, ministers who knew better, who helped others so well were either too busy or simply didn’t know what to say. Instead, they chose to say nothing and their silence was the cruelest blow of all.
Then the dreadful truth hit me between the eyes. At times, I have offered loving gestures of compassion and support. At other times, I have also been guilty of the unimaginable act of callousness by saying or doing… nothing. “Forgive me Lord and help me do better!”
The Apostle Paul gave this advice to us: “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7) I’m beginning to learn the hard way that we are judged, not by our church attendance, Bible study, hymn singing, or even by how much money we place in the offering plate. They are certainly good disciplines, which help us, become better Christians but we will be judged by how we utilize those same disciplines to respond to the world around us.
It is often the simple gestures of tenderness and care that says to the grieving heart… I love you and God loves you! I’m beginning to deeply understand how much they benefit our healing.
So, what did I learn from this experience?
* We are not alone. It’ a comforting thought even in the midst of heartbreak. The church offers love and compassion from a human perspective and a grace that can only come from God.
* Not everyone has the same feeling. I am aware that some have not experienced the same grace and compassion, loving people of God should offer. As a church we should do better.
* Simple gestures of love and support are noticed and appreciated. Don’t put off writing that card or making a phone call to someone in need. Bake a cake or send some cookies if you are able. Look around and do a needed chore such as cutting the grass or cleaning the house. It sounds simple enough but those gestures are so deeply appreciated.
* I need you. As a pastor, I try to look and act independent but truthfully I need you.
* I need God! Just when I start to give myself all the credit, God sends a poignant reminder. The events of the past few days drove me to my knees because there was nothing else to do.
* Tragedy can strengthen our faith. It’s true, you know. God may not cause catastrophe, but it can be the catalyst God uses to help us strengthen our faith, if we will allow it.
Maybe this is why I love God’s church so much. Where else can you feel so loved? Is it perfect? Of course not! The greatest truth I’ve discovered about the church is that we need continuing support from each other and from God. Even pastors need to be occasionally reminded of that all-important lesson. My prayer is that you too will receive loving comfort when you need it most.