Yesterday someone asked a question I’m frequently asked: How do you deal with so much sadness, particularly the kind that attends the difficult diagnoses, the news that the cancer has returned and that there are no treatment options left?
How do I deal with so much sadness? I get sad. After walking with people through several years of their lives, I grow to love them. A lot. the prospect of losing them hurts…
…like the day I visited an elderly member–one I had grown to love deeply–and recognized that he no longer recognized me. That day I ran back to my car and sobbed. I sobbed because I was sad.
So, yes. It’s sad when someone you’ve grown to love begins the last leg of their life’s journey, but sadness isn’t everything I feel…because, as that person’s pastor, I have a job to do. And my job is this: to be present. That’s really it–just be present. There’s nothing more I CAN do. I’m not a doctor; I can’t cure anything. I’m not a nurse; I can’t make anyone more comfortable. I’m not a family member; I don’t do the things famly members do. I’m a pastor. I show up and offer my presence…and through my presence (and maybe a prayer), I remind the others in the room that God also is present.
That’s pretty much what we pastors do–we show up. We show up, we say a few words (and those are optional, I’m learning), and then, barring some crisis, we leave. And when we leave, we entrust the person to God’s care.
How do I deal with the sadness when a congregant’s devastating diagnosis comes? With sadness, with presence, and with the full knowledge that the beloved is in God’s hands. Always.
Thanks be to God.