Our Sorrow

“Sorrow has a large family.”

Pain puts all humanity on equal footing. The young, old, rich, poor, educated or uneducated will taste sorrow.   

Once I received note of encouragement where the writer summed up sources of pain clearly in terms we all can understand: 

I always say that there are three things that can happen to you life:  

  • Things you bring upon yourself  
  • Things others do to you  
  • And the meteorites that hit you from afar 

Simple, not theological language but sound theology. Universal, it is the human condition on this planet.

We get no exemption. Despite the fact our husbands pick up a paycheck from a church we will face sorrow. Yet it is fair to say, we walk out our pain and sorrow in a unique environment.

Three things that create a unique environment in our sorrow:

1- We live with  “ministerial mystique.” 

What is the ministerial mystique? It is a world of expectations that surround ministry life. People may construct a mysterious framework of diverse and unspoken expectations around our worlds.  Many have strong ideas on how we should function. Those expectations may include how vulnerable we should be in times of our personal struggle. 

“Too Stoic” some may say. While others: “Too vulnerable.” Sigh. We’ll never get it just right.

There is a tension between doing lives in faith community with transparency and vulnerability that is healthy and helpful and yet maintain a level of appropriateness of privacy and personal space. There is no instruction book for finding balance between two great poles of full exposure or lives that are cordoned off by far too many boundaries. 

Three considerations for working out our sorrow in a healthy, Biblical way:

  • Our spiritual and emotional needs.
  • Living authentically and in true community in the body of Christ
  • Our call to be leaders even through our personal pain. 

2- The very nature of the “industry” we are called to.  

Our industry is not corporate, nor academic, nor purely humanitarian. We work in a heart industry.  Charles Spurgeon has described ministry life. “Ours is more than mental work—it is heart work—the labor of our inmost soul.”  

John Piper made this observation: “To persevere through oppressing moments in life…everyone must get up and make breakfast, wash clothes, go work…and generally keep going when the heart is breaking…How can we do the work of the heart…doing the work of faith…when your own heart is under siege and your own faith may fragile and wounded?” 

When our own hearts are breaking…it can be tough to do the work of the “inmost soul.”  

The tables feel turned when our knees are weak.  We can resonate the observation of Job’s friend in the midst of his devastation: “Your words have helped the tottering to stand, and you have strengthened feeble knees.” Job 4:4 NASB 

Not necessarily a helpful reminder. Yet in our sorrow we find ourselves in unfamiliar role of the wounded and tottering.

Writing a sermon in the swirl of personal pain and/or even doubt can be grueling. Leading a group of women while holding back the dam of your own tears may seem insurmountable. You are asked to pray for a sick baby when you have just lost yours? Your heart will be broken again.

And YET this moment provides us these opportunities:

  •  To personally tug hard on the line of hope we have often offered to others.

    “We have this hope as an anchor for our souls both sure and steadfast…” Hebrews 6:19 ESV 

  •  To clearly and gloriously put the treasure of God on display.

         “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7 RSV 

      (This is what we have been preaching, isn’t it?)  

ONLY by God’s grace and power can we carry on in the heart industry of gospel ministry.  

(Our Sorrow continues on Wednesday’s post as we discuss the third unique feature: Battling Bitterness.)

Published November 18, 2013