Sometimes there are no words. There are only tears and hugs. Sometimes the best answer to the question “Why?” is, “I don’t know.” And sometimes goodbyes aren’t forever.
Every pastor learns these lessons at some point in his or her ministry. Most of us learn them on the fly or from a wise sage who through long years of faithful service has learned how to care for the grieving well. More often than not we learn these lessons by watching, doing, struggling, and failing. Classroom lectures often fall short when people’s lives are falling apart.
I’ve learned most of what I know about pastoral care by trial and error. Lots of trying and lots of error. I think I got it wrong more than I got it right. Walking into Billi and Bob’s house just minutes after Bob died, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. But out of that experience I learned that sometimes caring is more about being rather than doing.
I learned it the day I drove to the hospital after receiving word that a young couple in our church had lost their baby. I learned that sometimes there is no good answer to the question of why, but that in the absence of answers there is still Jesus. And because of Jesus there is always hope.
I learned it in the wee hours of the morning when Leonard pulled off his oxygen mask to tell those of us standing around his hospital bed goodbye. As he went around the room that night, his message to me, his 33-year-old pastor, was, “I love you. I’ll see you later.” We all prayed the Lord’s Prayer. My dear friend began the prayer with us on earth and ended it with his Savior in heaven.
Sometimes there are no words . . . there is only presence. Sometimes there is no why . . . there is only Jesus. Sometimes a goodbye is not really a “goodbye” . . . it’s a “see you later.”
With the incarnation, Jesus gave us His presence. At the cross, God the Son chose to enter into suffering, grief, and loss for our sakes. And with the empty tomb, He communicated a redemptive hope that trumps all loss, sorrow, grief, and pain.
Pastor, when there are no words, give them your presence. When there is no “why,” love them well in Jesus’ name. And when all hope seems lost, remind them that the empty tomb can turn “goodbye” into “see you later.”
Please join me and Dave Branon along with our host Tim Jackson for an upcoming webinar, Shepherding Others Through Loss, on November 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. EST. I believe we have some unique insight to share with pastors and ministry leaders. To register for the live event, click the link above. Our prayer is that you will be a little better equipped to enter into the pain of others and to bring the comforting presence of Jesus Christ into the darkness of grief.