Read 1 Peter 2:1-5
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10)
It is always hard dealing with the changes and the challenges that life throws our way. Just when everything seems to settle, the smoke clears, and life seems to be going the way we expect it, that is the moment another catastrophe or unexpected tragedy hits us. In the midst of that, we are left behind scratching our heads, beating our chests, and crying out to God for an answers as to WHY these things happen.
Of course, there is no answer to the question, “why”, that would ever satisfy us in moments of tragedy, loss and grief. Honestly, even if there was a REALLY good reason as to why, it would do us no good in removing the pain we feel. The fact of the matter is that we spend our lives building relationships, growing to love and care for people and, in the midst of that, time flies by and life happens. Before we know it the people we love, the homes we have made, and the lives we have built seem to come crashing down all around us with little or notice whatsoever.
As a person who has served as a youth pastor, a senior pastor, and a chaplain in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, I have seen people I have grown to love and deeply respect go through tough illnesses, life-altering/life-threatening accidents, and terminal diseases. I have sat with youth who are suffering depression, whose parents are going through divorce and a host of other issues. On the one hand, it is what I do and I am thankful to God that I get to serve in such a capacity as I know it means the world to those who are in need of pastoral presence and prayer.
With that said, pastors and chaplains are human too, and we also find ourselves struggling to process the tragedies, the trials, the loss, and the grief that life throws our way, even when we are simultaneously offering our support and presence to others who are going through the same exact process. What’s more, as a human being, I have had my share of losses that are not connected with my vocation. I have lost family members I was close to, I have lost friends, and I have lost my own self-identity at points. I have struggled through illnesses of my own, I have suffered depression, and I have had my share of life-threatening accidents that, one day, I may very well suffer more consequences from.
It is in that very human experience that we have ALL been given a tremendous gift and a tremendous responsibility. As humans, we are are able to relate with others as result of our own personal experiences. We are able to be there for others because we can understand what they are going through, even when our own circumstances don’t match theirs entirely. It is in our humanity, that we have been given the power to relate and to empathize with people.
I recently was shown a YouTube video that nicely sums up the difference between Sympathy and Empathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for people from a distance. We keep that distance to prevent ourselves from being in the darkness, the loss, the grief, the suffering with the people we are sympathizing with. Empathy on the other hand, is being present with people in the midst of their despair, joining them in that despair and shouldering that despair with them so that they do not suffer alone.
This is certainly what pastors, myself included, do in our ministries; however, this is not a roll that is specific only to pastors and clergy but a roll that all people are called to partake in. God, in Jesus Christ, suffered in all the ways common to the human experience, empathizes with us, and helps us to shoulder the things we are struggling with. So to, God calls us all to minister to one another in order that no one suffers alone. The Gospel, and the Bible as a whole, witness to the priesthood of all believers. We are all ordained by God to minister to one another and, in that ministry, we are to be a people of empathy, not sympathy.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The priest is not made. One must be born a priest; must inherit [the] office. I refer to the new birth—the birth of water and the Spirit. Thus all Christians [are] priests, children of God and co-heirs with Christ the Most High Priest. – Rev. Martin Luther
Lord, put in my heart your compassion and your empathy so that I may share in the suffering of others as I bear witness to your presence in their lives and in their struggles. Amen.