These were not comforting words. I still had scars on my arm and was not sleeping well in an empty bed.
Of course my goal for the last ten years had been to develop the technical skills of preaching, coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire, encourage, and motivate people to grow in their faith. To think that people could see that I would become better at this should have been encouraging to me early in my pastoral ministry life. People actually thought I had potential!
But it wasn’t encouraging. Not even close.
You see, this was said to me not long after my wife Sheri had just died in a car accident. A good-hearted person was trying to cheer me up, and in the course of conversation had reasoned that God took Sheri because I needed to be a better preacher and have a more powerful ministry. I put on my best “thank you for your kind words” face, and managed to get out of the room before lashing out with an angry tirade and perhaps even an uppercut to the chops. Some people just don’t get it.
I believe that every hurt we go through can and will be redeemed for good-if we let it.
I could have easily turned away from God and others in this time of grief, deciding to forgo a life of ministry for something else. If God couldn’t hear the anguished prayers of a pastor, what hope did anyone have? Why go on with the Christian charade? But I made a decision not to get stuck and wallow in my pain forever. Instead, this is what I did:
I got Better instead of Bitter.
There were so many unanswered questions, and many of the answers I got weren’t very satisfactory, like the one I just described. But I knew that there would never be any good reason that I could come up with for losing Sheri. Instead I decided to focus on what I knew to be true. I took the words of Jesus and the hope of resurrection seriously. Instead of wallowing in pity, I shared my story. It was therapeutic. And it helped a lot of people, including me
I Comforted Others.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others” (1:3-4). Through my process of grieving there were many who genuinely comforted me with words and actions unlike Job’s friends. And because of all of the love and compassion I received in the dark times I decided that I would not waste my hurt. I would pass on the comfort I received to others. I have spent time at conferences, retreats, and counseling sessions sharing my story with people who needed hope when they feel helpless. And I always leave a better person for doing it.
I decided to offer more Love and less Advice.
One of the greatest gifts I was given in my time of grief was a congregation who had been coached by the pastoral staff to “Give Mike and hug, tell him you love him, and don’t give him advice.” Most people took those words to heart and it was a beautiful gift. Most days I just needed to know that there were people in my life who cared about me.
Advice can ring hollow. Hugs rarely do.
I think I am a better preacher for what I have gone through. Not because of the tragedy, but in spite of it. God has taken my brokenness and made something beautiful.
What brokenness might God want to redeem to make your life beautiful?