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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is It OK for the Pastor to Cry?

A few Sundays ago a young woman approached me after the service and asked if I would do a baby dedication in the hospital. Turns out her 4 month old baby was seriously ill due to complications related to a lung infection. The following Tuesday I arrived at Astrid Lindgren’s Children’s Hospital and found my way to the children’s intensive care unit. I met the father and some extended family and then we gathered around the baby where I proclaimed the reality that Jesus said to let the little children come to Him, for to such belong the kingdom of God. I said the benediction over this tiny child, perhaps not fully realizing how near death she really was. It was moving and profound. I felt privileged and honored to enter this family’s life at such a critical point.

I was also secretly relieved that I didn’t break down and cry during the dedication. I wanted to be strong for the family, to be able to proclaim the love of God in Christ without tears or emotional struggle lacing my voice.

Later that night I received a text message from the mother that said that I was welcome back to the hospital the next day to say m final farewells to the baby. It had become clear that she would not recover and that they would need to take her off the life support system and allow her to gently and peacefully succumb to death. I felt devastated and yet I also knew that I needed to go back.

The next afternoon I headed back to the hospital to assure the parents that God knows a parent's grief, seeking to connect their anguish with the anguish that God must’ve felt when Jesus died even in the midst of the cries of their heart, Why God Why? This is so unfair. Because the truth of the matter is plain and simple...how do you lose a 4 month old and not wonder a bit about the goodness and providence of God? Yes, we can be thankful that she doesn't stay alive with a deformed and diminished life ahead of her. There's grace in that reality. And still, we wonder. Why did she get sick to begin with? As deep and as powerful as the promises of God are, the reality of losing a 4 month old child left me largely speechless and this time aching with tears.

As I handed the dedication papers to the mother, lamely explaining that it might be a helpful reminder that her child is safe in the Father’s arms, I broke down and cried. The void that this child’s death was creating in her parent’s lives was too much for me to bear. As I gathered the parents and the doctors around the baby for a final prayer and blessing, my own sense of anguish and grief overcame me. I didn’t lose it and I was able to continue to provide a pastoral presence, and yet, it never feels good to create a scenario where the one hurting feels forced to comfort the one supposedly bringing comfort.

We shared a tender time and then it was time for the parents to join the Dr. and walk through the steps that would lead to their daughter’s death. I left with a wet face and a heavy heart.

I do not hold my emotions back easily. Tears come pretty easily for me, which often is a gift. And yet, when considering the pastoral role, I struggle with my inability to keep it together emotionally. I know that God’s grace covers me. And I know that in II Corinthians 1:3-7, Paul speaks of our being comforted with the same spirit that will comfort another. In Romans we are called to laugh with those who laugh and to cry with those who cry. But still, I struggle with emotional displays when in the role of pastor. And yet, I am who I am and that means emotional obviousness, and so I guess I will always wrestle with the question, is it OK for a pastor to cry?