I need to be honest with you. This pandemic is exhausting. My body is tired. My mind is tired. My soul is tired. I want nothing more than to get back to normal. Preaching a sermon without all my people in the room is just not the same (no offense David Rose and Lauren Salsman). Not walking around the sanctuary or contemporary worship space to talk to my friends has been a serious drain in my life. But it isn’t just work. This insanity has impacted my family. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard Miriam and Evie say, “Dad, I hate this virus!” (It’s the one time we let them say they hate something).
A few weeks ago, Miriam wrote a letter to her friend at school. She talked about how much she missed her friend, Mason. She introduced me to her friend once in the “walkers’ line” at school. This is a verbatim description of our conversation.
Miriam: “Dad this is Mason. Mason, this is my dad. He is the Pastor of the First Baptist Church.”
Mason: “Oh, cool…Hi, Miriam’s dad.”
He seemed less than impressed with her friend’s dad and his role in life.
Mason is in the same grade above Miriam. He is, to use a word that described me as a kid, husky. He’s got huge dimples and a smile that spanned the whole of his face. Mason is a beautiful child. Mason is Miriam’s friend. She missed her friend and she wanted to write him a letter, so he could remember how much they loved talking after school.
I know I am talking about a child, but her letter was so incredibly kind. She said she loved her friend Mason. She said she wanted to see him again soon. She drew a picture where they were holding hands, like they used to do when they left school every day. We tried to find an address for Mason, only to find out that his mom and dad are out of the picture and no one from the school has been able to locate Mason since COVID-19 took over our lives. I still have her picture, and every time I look at it, I break down and I cry. Honestly, I am crying right now just thinking about that crayon drawing.
But let me be completely real for a few minutes. Yes, I cry when I think about implications (however minor they might be) of this pandemic on my children, but that’s not the only reason I have shed tears over the past nine weeks. There have been moments where I find myself crying for absolutely no reason at all. I miss my friends and my family. I missed being able to tell Becky, the bartender, how excited I was for the upcoming birth of her second child. The list could go on and on. There are very real moments when, honestly, I am just done with this pandemic. Why am I telling you that I cry at moments that make no sense to me? I am not telling you this because I want a pity party. All in all, my life is amazing. My family is healthy, my work is wonderful, and all is well. I am not complaining. So why? In part, I am telling you because I want you to know that pastors get the blues, too. One of my goals in life is to be genuinely alive and to experience the goodness of the world that is all around us. And there are times when that means I will weep. Sometimes for good reasons and other times for no reason at all.
I am telling you this because it is really important that you understand something. Weeping, grieving, and feeling completely overwhelmed is not a sign of weakness. It is a reminder that there are things in our lives that are not the way they should be and we all desperately want to reclaim the things in our lives that are good and true and right. It’s a reminder of your humanity. Admitting that you are struggling right now is not an admission of failure, it is a realization that something just isn’t quite right. That is ok. It’s more than ok, it actually really important.
Because if you are anything like me, you were raised in a world where crying wasn’t something we did in public. Men don’t cry. Seriously, I never once saw my dad shed a tear. Being a man meant being tough. But does it? Friends (men and women), pay attention to what I am about to write. Most everything inside of us wants to cover up and gloss over the rough spots we are experiencing right now. Just cut on Netflix and it will all go away. Watch a few TikTok videos and everything will be better. Until it isn’t. Those fixes will not make you feel alive, they will make you feel numb. And those are two very different things. Our culture teaches us to numb pain with distraction and entertainment. But Jesus teaches us to live into our true humanity, and sometimes that means shedding a few tears. One of my favorite writers and theologians, Frederick Buechner says it like this,
“You never know what may cause tears. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before…You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”
We live in a world that doesn’t want to acknowledge loss or grief. We no longer have funerals, we have “celebrations of life”. Of course, we celebrate life but in the process we far too often short circuit the work of the soul. People can no longer weep, and my friends, that is not good. When Jesus went to see his friend Lazarus, what did he do? Yep, you got it, “Jesus wept.” What is it in your life right now that is resulting in tears? Pay attention, because it can save your soul. Don’t give in to the weapons of mass distraction, because if you sit with the grief long enough, I promise you will find a way to new life.
I am treading new ground in these times. I don’t like to talk about grief. I don’t want to linger in the pain. I want to celebrate Jesus and Resurrection…and then I realize that before resurrection…there is death…and there is grief…and there is pain. If you want to be alive, then ask yourself what you are weeping for in this moment. At our best, it is what the Jesus movement has always done well. One of the greatest writers of our time is Richard Rohr. In his book, Everything Belongs, Richard talks about the journey from darkness to light that we can all experience as human beings. I hope what he tells us means as much to you as it has to me.
“It should be the work of Christians to help people when they are being led into the darkness and the void. The believer has to tell those in pain that this is not forever; there is a light and you will see it. This isn’t all there is. Trust. Don’t try to rush through it; we can’t leap through over our grief work. We have to feel it. That means that in our life we will have some blue days or dark days. Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, transformation, and necessary hibernation. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid. When we avoid darkness, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity, and finally transformation. We avoid God, who works in the darkness- where we are not in control! Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control.”
Many of us are in the blue days. The urge is to avoid this place, to stay far away from the dark. But for those of us who follow Jesus, we know that we will go through it…and come out transformed. Friends, pay attention to the blue days, pay attention to the space where you weep for the things you miss in your life. What are those things? Why do you miss them? What will you do if you ever get them back? If we will sit with those moments long enough, who knows, they might even lead us to life. They might even save our souls.