Word of the Week

Pastoral Public Service Announcement

So much of the work of pastors lies in the realms of life that are uncomfortable or hidden in plain sight of day-to-day life. On a weekly basis, conversations of mine with persons of all ages, deals with the more painful realities of topics such as grief, pain, loss and depression.  It's a beautiful work to be a part of: to be invited into the lives of people not as they want others to perceive them but in authenticity.

As much as church is a community where we say all people are welcome-- just as they are-- it is often that we don't know what to do with folks who are out of sorts a little: who are sad, who are anti-social, and who are struggling to make something of the broken pieces of their lives. For as much as we know how to throw parties for weddings, births and anniversaries, abiding with one another in some of life's most heartbreaking losses is much more complicated. Out of fear of not knowing what to say, often our response is to do nothing. "I'll just give ___ their space right now." Or, we fill the void of discomfort with pleasantries about the weather.

Yet, what we don't realize is that our ignorance of basic caring skills or inability to be vulnerable with our feelings of: "I just don't know what to do. I don't want to say something wrong" can often be even more or as equally painful as the root cause of the problem for our friend or loved one.

Often, we isolate the sick, the suffering and the sad into small corners of our communal life often without even  knowing it. So by means of Pastoral Public Service Announcement (PPSA) consider these suggestions:  though not taken from medical or psychological expertise, of course, but from my pastoral heart to yours in hopes that we can find ways to support all persons in our webs of relationships, both in the good times and the bad.

1. If someone is depressed, don't listen to them. If they say they don't want to be visited, if they don't want to be called, if they don't call you back, keep trying. Folks going through depression want to know that someone notices them, cares about them and isn't afraid to walk through the dark days of life with them. Keep showing up. Keep calling.  Eventually, they will let you in when they see that you REALLY care.

2. Don't underestimate the value of your own pain story. Even if you are seeking to care for a person who is going through a situation that you don't understand, pain is pain. If you've known what is it like to be the dark night of the soul (no matter the reason), you will recognize this in another and it will be a comfort to your friend to know that the sadness in them is not unknown to you.

3. Don't say, "I understand" when you don't.  But, do listen. Listen. And, listen some more. Often times, people in grief just need to be heard. Sometimes hearing a story completely through can be a gift to another greater than one will ever know.

4.  Spiritual language if not used appropriately can bring damage that lasts for years to come. Use such phrases as "God's will" "God will make a way" "God only gives us only what we can handle" "It must not be God's plan" or "He/ she is in a better place; God needed him/ her more" with caution. If you must use spiritual language, consider things like "I bet God is crying tears along with you right" or "Your community of faith loves you."

5. When all else fails, just show up and be a presence. Simple tasks like doing the dishes or gathering the laundry or making such the children in the house have their homework done, are often tasks that the grieving don't have energy or interest in. By doing things without being told to do them, it's a risk, sure, but is often exactly what is the greatest ministry. By taking out the trash or bringing a meal, you are reminding the sad, that their humanity and its basic needs are still valued even as he or she struggles.

Any more suggestions to add?

Bottom line: let's be better at being good to each other!