Pastoral Sadness

There is an old adage that says, “a mother is only as happy as her saddest child.”  As a father I know that to be true.  I have a son who is struggling with his faith right now and he is not happy.  There is the narrative that he was raised with in our home and the narrative that he is living right now in art school and those stories are not even close to harmonizing; in fact, they are striking a dissonant chord.

Remember the famous story Jesus told about the two sons?  Jesus never mentions that the reason the younger son wanted his inheritance early so he could leave and squander it was due to any failure on the father’s part.  Whew, I think.  Maybe I should let myself off the guilt hook.  And yet as I watch him live out his life in ‘the far country’ I ache for him to love and know the Jesus I know.  I search my memories for where I failed him as a father and pastor.  How did he drift so far?

I am running a low-grade fever of sadness while he is prodigalizing in Portlandia.

As I sit here looking out at the Sound and see large gulls soaring on thermals over the water, I am seeing other faces that make my heart grow sad.  Not children of mine.  I see faces of congregants; people who are trying so hard to find their way in this world without Jesus.  Oh, they come to church.  Some come regularly, some intermittently but they are in my flock and I am their shepherd.  And while I am delighted with our church family and I am at peace with Jesus, I am also very aware that my sense of melancholy is tied to the saddest member of my church.

I am careful about boundaries.  I am quite willing to let people feel the full weight of the consequences of their sins.  These consequences can be their best tutors.  But, oh this weight, this cloud, this dull and throbbing ache for the people for whom I have been given charge is relentless.

Matthew tells us that Jesus felt this heaviness, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

The Apostle Paul commands all Christians to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:4)

I wonder if this sadness is part of bearing the burden.  I wonder if in bearing we are more present.  I wonder if being more present with them leaves open the opportunity to run to them when they “come to themselves” and realize all that is waiting for them in the Father’s house.  I believe this sadness keeps a father on the front porch looking down a long and dusty road for a broken and sad boy to come walking home.  And when he sees the familiar stride of his child, to be quick to leap off the porch and run down the road to embrace his son.  And it is this sadness that makes a pastor stand on the porch of a little church every Sunday morning looking at a parking lot for that troubled family to drive up.

So, I wait and watch—ready to run to both my son and you.

For I am a pastor.

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4 thoughts on “Pastoral Sadness

  1. Love it Joe. Went through that with my oldest son, also named Joe. He’s 31 now, strong in the Lord – a true Warrior.

    Keep praying…

    Love you my friend.

  2. It has been over 10 years now for us as we wonder about our eldest child. I keep holding to the faith and the hope that Jack would always give me. “He’ll be fine, just let him find his own way.” You can’t do it for them. I told my son one day that he would not get to heaven on my skirt tails, and it was his own responsiblilty to seek out a relationship with Christ. First he claimed to be an atheist, then an agnostic. I finally quit talking to him about faith, because I did not want to give him any room to paint himself into a corner. I believe it is best left up to the Holy Spirit to draw him in and it is my job to pray him in and to love him unconditionally in the meantime. Only Jesus can woo them and we can only try to live a Godly life before them. I am far from perfect and I have made plenty of mistakes. My faith is holding me up as we mourn the loss of his father, my best friend, and one of the Godliest men I will ever know. I just pray that this tender time will be enough to push my son to the Heavenly Father.

  3. Joe, you have spoken right into my life. I feel the burden of Church/Sunday Morning/Family/Them…hmmm, and the raising of four boys into this ‘pulling’ world. I believe God has given me, almost miraculously, a heart that runs out to meet ‘them’ on the long dirt road…maybe because I know how often He has done just that for another…there down that road dragging a wounded leg, dust billowing around, unshaven, unclean, heavy hearted…me.

  4. Just now got the opportunity to read your blog. I agree concerning the burden. Its hard to watch the flock wander aimlessly, unwilling to hear us call out to them.

    I want to look at the other element of this. What about when they DO return. Sometimes I am not sure how to react. If it is their FIRST return, I am excited beyond measure. I am supportive. I feel vindicated in some way. But when they have made this a habbit, I am not sure how to react. They seem genuinely pained because of their wanderings, but I can’t help but feel it is just another futil stab at turning over a new leaf rather than repentance. In that, sometimes I feel like I am the failure. Don’t really know.

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