The list of trauma a pastor hears is long. Most of what we hear is self-inflicted trauma. Stupid choices made in a moment of impulse; choices that lead to crime, addictions, relational destruction, and financial ruin. I have some compassion for the stupid. I am a card-carrying member of the “Stupid” fraternity. Then, to find a place to stand in the fall-out of those choices, the more stupid among us say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and you make bad decisions.
Then there are those tender souls that are the collateral damage of the stupid choices. I can’t count how many phone calls I have received over the years from people who are weeping on the other end of the line over the choices of someone in their lives. “Pastor, she is taking pills and smoking pot again.” Or “He gambled our life savings away and now we don’t have money for the kid’s school clothes.” Or “Pastor, she is gone and I don’t know where she went.” And the list goes on and on.
And your heart breaks. Mine does. I feel the staggering weight of pain in that moment.
But the real threat to the health of a pastor’s heart is the insidious infection of apathy. Not him— his congregants. It comes sneaking up slowly. No one suddenly becomes apathetic. A person may say after a long struggle or fight, “Okay, whatever. I don’t even care.” But you can tell by the tone of their voice that they do. Apathy creeps into a heart of a Christ-follower and causes them to allow little things to displace devotion to Jesus. It is almost imperceptible.
Imperceptible to the carrier maybe, but a pastor can see it right away.
In some ways it is like leprosy. How do you know when you get leprosy? You lose bodily sensations. You might unintentionally wound yourself and not be aware of it, followed by an infection that causes further tissue damage. Pain (or the lack of it) has betrayed you.
Spiritual leprosy is the same. (I am using the disease metaphorically, not theologically) The infection of apathy displays itself by the lack of bodily sensations. Whose body? The Body of Christ. This disease renders the carrier sensation-free.
What are the symptoms? The pain of a fellow member (heart-rending loss of a loved one) just doesn’t penetrate to the soul. How do I know? I watch how they carry that pain. The thrill of a worship service is muted. Good news and victories are boring. The preacher sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Prayers are truncated.
I watch for patterns of behavior. I also listen to what they say about the Body of Christ. I listen for justifications and rationale. And when I don’t hear empathy, I know I am speaking to a carrier. Not to be too corny, they have lost that loving feeling.
About fifteen years ago I asked my wife if she felt loved by me. She didn’t even let me put the period on my sentence and I could see the “n” being formed by her lips, “No.” How so, I asked. She said almost everything in your world feels more important than me. My bride doesn’t feel like she is on the list of important things. I argued, “I do this and I do that.” She quit speaking. I should have shut up too. If you have to argue your love, you are doing a bad job of showing your love. But I argued and then pouted.
But here is the clincher: in spite of that revelation, I didn’t DO anything to change how my heart felt towards my wife. I assumed she was just being needy. I kept on with my lifestyle as is. It took a complete rebooting of our marriage twelve years ago before I was able to display by my actions how important to me she really is.
I fear not the question now.
So, let me ask myself the question again—this time I will ask the Bride of Christ—“Do you feel loved by me?”
Now it’s’ your turn to ask.