Crying in church
I just spent the last three hours trying not to cry my eyes out in
pastoral care class. The topic this week was funerals. I rightfully
anticipated a swell of emotions and prepared my heart accordingly. But
in class the conversation the stories drifted towards the death of
children, the most precarious moment of pastoral engagement. I felt the
lump in my chest rise to my throat and before I knew it I was doing
deep breathing exercises to control the pain and sorrow of even the
idea of my daughter’s death.
Can pastors be criers? This was the question I managed to eek out
before actually bursting into tears before Prof Dykstra at the break.
Between sobs I got out that my strong reaction was deeply related to
child death, not death in general. He gave me some assurance about the
role of empathy, especially for grieving parents, the importance of not
hiding our emotions.
Nice. Helpful. But could I actually do it? Could I actually stand
before the family of a three-year old who died of leukemia and make a
convincing case for the resurrection? In all honesty, that I will be
regularly conducting funerals has never fully sank in when I consider
leading a congregation. I just can’t go there.
This is about the time that I want to call into question my ability
to do this job. I am a pretty good mind person. I can grasp fairly
complex arguments. I can translate difficult concepts. But most of all
I’ve never cried in a course on Christology or Romans. My skill at
successfully leading a family through the Gospel proclamation that
death has been swallowed up even as our hearts are broken. I mean, how
would you like it if the mouse-like pastor couldn’t get through the
Gospel, let alone the sermon, at your mother’s funeral? Holy smokes….
I think that most theology types like to think that the really
difficult work of the church is figuring out the inter-relationship of
the Trinity or identifying the sacramental theology of Aquinas. For me,
the really difficult questions are quite different. How do you tell the
parent of a child who died in a car accident that you’re not going to
be able to lead a hockey themed funeral? How do you physically tear a
mother away from the graveside of the child she bore with her own body?
Theologians have it easy.