Guest commentary by Cheyanna Losey
In our rural congregation, there are times when death seems to come one right after another. During these seasons an emptiness is found not only in our pews, but also in my heart. I know each of these I have loved are now in the presence of our God. I know they are no longer suffering, and I am grateful for that truth. I rejoice that they finally see God face-to-face and I long for the day when I will do the same. Each Sunday I stand in the pulpit, look out into the pews, and I see their empty spaces. There is a moment each Sunday when I cannot help but acknowledge the bitter sweetness of life as a pastor.
As a pastor I get to become a friend, welcomed in the quiet hospital rooms, in the busy emergency rooms, at kitchen tables and even at the funeral home. I get the privilege of crying tears, holding hands, hearing stories of faith and even hearing those fears difficult to utter aloud to any other person. This is a call that I often refer to as the position of secret-keeper. I keep the secrets shared in the darkest moments, because sometimes the burden of fear or guilt or grief is just too heavy to bear alone.
As a pastor I get to participate in some of the most joyful moments of life: birth, baptism, weddings and reconciliation. These moments are always filled with possibility, with joy and with anticipation of the blessings that God is bestowing. To witness such sweet moments of life fills my heart to overflowing.
All of these moments go through my mind as I sit in my office preparing for Sunday morning worship. All of these needs, these blessings and these hurts fill my mind as I offer to God my prayers and seek the gift of words. As I prepare the words for worship I see their faces, hear their voices and remember their stories in hopes that the words I share with them will open their eyes and their hearts to the love that God has for them. I do this because I know that if it were not for God’s great love and mercy I could not stand before them with so many empty spaces in the pews.
Death is not the victor and never will be, but at times the emptiness left behind can threaten to overwhelm even those of us who are considered professionals. Many of us who answer God’s call to love families as pastors, funeral directors, doctors, nurses and caretakers do not seek any worldly glory. There is no need for glory here when we are confident we are answering God’s call. However, the grief for us is as real is as it is for anyone, even if it is hard to recognize because we have become masters at hiding our own grief to help with yours.
As a pastor, I get the privilege and honor of walking beside not only the grieving families and congregations, but also the professionals who grieve. It is an honor to be trusted enough to be allowed to share these moments. Bearing one another’s burdens in love, that is what we are called to as the church and I am thankful together we can bear each other’s burdens, even in seasons of grief.
So when you stand beside your pastor, or hospice nurse, or funeral director and staff, or the nurse or doctor, I wonder this: Do you see them as a person or as the professional who is paid to make this easier for you? Or, instead: Do you see in them a person who has walked this road more times than they want to count and allow them to grieve alongside you?
Cheyanna L. Losey is pastor of United Church of Woodhull in Woodhull, Illinois.