“It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” ~ Ecclesiastes 7:2-4
Earlier this year I accepted a call as Co-Director of Sonlight Christian Camp in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. My duties will focus on guiding and maintaining a center of hospitality, faith development, and wilderness exploration for folks of all ages. It will be different from pastoring in a congregation. And thus I have had a chance to muse on what I will miss about the life of a full-time pastor.
I have received many encouraging comments from folks indicating that they will miss my preaching. I have poured a great deal of energy into that part of my work at Nineveh, trying to keep it a focal point of my ministry. I expect that without the need to prepare a worship service and sermon every Sunday, I will feel a poignant vacuum in my routine and my life.
But I have been surprised by another aspect of my ministry.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had opportunities to serve people by talking with them about great and life-changing difficulties—the terrible loss of a loved one, agonizing choices about a family member’s health, and wrenching relationship problems. They fall under the unassuming title of “pastoral care” in the range of duties for which I was trained; I always considered pastoral care important but not something that lit my fire. I have tried to fulfill that work to the best of my ability, but have never dreamed about developing it with special attention.
Yet, after these recent pastoral care conversations, I feel as if I will miss them. To those who will follow the Spirit’s call into painful places, where hearts cry only for mercy, a unique blessedness accrues. God, it seems, offers a special gift to those who will, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes puts it, “go to a house of mourning.”
I don’t believe that my words or actions in those conversations achieved anything worthy of the record books. But the opportunity just to be present, to help create a sacred space for the debriding of the soul, allows me to witness an upwelling of the Spirit from deeper places. And every time I follow the call into places of sadness, I think I am given the gift of a wider perspective.
We who follow a crucified savior have, I think, a unique calling in the world. Unabashed at the sorrows of this life, we can talk with, sit with, and weep with those who unwillingly plumb the depths. But we can, at the same time, look up not with willful ignorance of pain but instead with resurrection hope. Out of suffering comes wisdom, just as death yielded hope. I continue to believe that this calling is not only for pastors, but for all Christians, interacting with every sort of person. No matter what our special gifts, presence and hope in suffering are universal to the saints.
I do not know what opportunities I’ll have for these kind of conversations in my new calling. But I will miss the precious moments from this time, this community, this particular complexity of human life. It is an honor to have been led into the profound places where God is working slowly, quietly, powerfully.
~ emrys tyler
SVP Cabinet Chair 2016
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