Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How to Say the Right Thing

A young man from my former congregation is in the hospital with some unidentified but critical condition that is shutting down his organs in rapid progression.  He was the twelve year-old who sat next to me at dinner during my interview and was thrilled that I remembered his name.  He was the eighth-grader in my first confirmation class, laughing so hard around my dining room table that we spit out our popcorn.  He was the teenager who mowed my lawn and adored my dog and moaned about school.  He's the kid who kept in touch after I left, who chats with me on Facebook, who I stop by to see when I notice that he's working when I drive past his job.  Now he's a nineteen year-old in a hospital bed with clammy, blueish skin, tubes running everywhere, his chest still cracked open under the blankets.  They don't know what's causing all of this.  They don't know if they can do anything.  His parents are, understandably, a wreck.  I'm not doing so hot either.

It is in times like this that I realize that I do not say the things that pastors are supposed to say.  I'm not even entirely sure what they are, but I feel like I should be saying comforting things about faith and how God will make it all turn out alright and so on.  But I can't.  I have no idea if God will make it turn out alright.  He might die, and it will not be alright for them if that happens.  He may come out of this but have severe brain damage or other problems, and that won't really be alright either.  Maybe in some greater cosmic sense it will be alright, and one way or another they will get through whatever it turns out to be, but I can't look them in the eye and in good conscience tell them that things will be anything approximating fine.  All I can say with confidence is that God is somewhere in this, deeply loving all of them.  But even that falls pretty flat when you're looking at your kid and the doctors are telling you he might not make it.

I'm probably supposed to be able to say something else about all of this, but I haven't figured out what that is yet.  I might be a bad pastor because I don't know what that is.  I don't know, I seem to do better with kids and non-church people.  Kids don't have expectations about what a pastor should say, so they just respond to people being real with them.  Non-church people often aren't big fans of the typical platitudes anyway, so my lack of answers works for some of them.  But this pastoral care for church people thing, man, I don't know.  Not really my gift.  

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