At one of our Healing the Heart Wounds of Ministry workshops, we asked the question, “What level must the pain reach before you will pause and grieve?” One of the participants responded, “Seven.” This was on a scale of 1-10 and he was equating it to the pain chart you might see while visiting your doctor. There is a mental health version of the chart where a green, toothy smiley face is slowly turning into a red frowny, crying face. Next to the number seven is a light red frowny face that is shedding a single tear. Along with that graphic is the following caption: “You’re avoiding things that make you more distressed, but that will make it worse. You should definitely seek help. This is serious.” From there, the pain escalates to “you can’t hide your struggles anymore”, “you’re at a critical point”, and “the worst mental and emotional health possible.”
It’s not rare for any person, let alone a pastor, to reach a seven or higher. We bear a lot of burdens and are exposed to an excessive amount of grief. And yet, most of the pastors and spouses at the workshop said that they don’t know what level the pain would have to reach because they never slow down and deal with the hurt and heartache. That’s not healthy. Some of it is our own idolatry. Some of us feed off being needed and others come alive in a crisis situation. I’m sure there are more of those dysfunctional reasons for why we can’t or won’t stop. A large part of the problem is expectation. Pastors and their families are supposed to hold it together. They are supposed to care for others. They are supposed to be pillars of strength who understand how God uses pain and suffering for his purposes. We’re the ones who are intended to make people feel comfort and hope amid sorrowful circumstances.
You probably have stories to tell. That’s something we love to do at the workshop. One of our team members lost his mother-in-law in a tragic manner, but it happened on the same day as a funeral he was scheduled to officiate. He couldn’t slow down long enough to mourn or weep with his family. Nor could he properly grieve the friend who would be buried that day. In our church, we lost three dear sisters whose deaths I didn’t fully cope with until years later. There was not space for me to feel the weight of my own emotion. I couldn’t just be because I had to be there for others.
This isn’t all that we discuss in this portion of the workshop. It’s not only grief and pain that we face. When you serve in vocational ministry, you are in a constant state of flux. Changes and transitions are a common occurrence. Some of those changes are hard on our hearts. Others are worthy of celebration. One of my favorite “indie” musicians is an artist named Mat Kearney (who happens to be a Christian guy.) A lyric from one of his songs goes like this: “And every change makes something to celebrate. Something that’ll nevеr be the same.” This made lots of sense to me when our oldest daughter graduated from high school. It was a time to be joyful, but also one in which my little girl was moving into a new phase of life. Her graduation slideshow was a testimony to all the changes she’s gone through. Whether it’s life or church, time marches on and as Mat Kearney sings, “You can’t stop the boulder when it starts.”
We can slow the pace, be good stewards of the time we’ve been given, and take a few moments to reflect. To be cared for by the God of all comfort. It is in his nature to meet us and to grieve with us. May we learn to rest and be restored before we reach a seven on the chart.