I need to tell you this story.
When I was a pastor over ten years ago, I preached at a tiny conference and afterwards a young woman approached me. She had tears in her eyes, said she was single and anxious all the time and nearing forty years old and had “accomplished nothing.” I hurt for her.
I drew a blank on what to say. My seminary hadn’t prepared me for this. And I was scared for her. How would her church reply? Her pastor? Was this place safe? All I could do was process with her, validate her feelings, remind her of her inherent value, pray with her. Was that enough?
After I had met this young anxious woman, I changed two things.
1) I rewrote the rest of my sermons for the week.
2) I vowed to always think of this woman and others like her every time I spoke or wrote.
I knew up to then, to my own shame, I had never preached for the ones in the back row.
How could I have forgotten? I was once in the back row too. But my eagerness to keep “sound” and sound pretty and to please my professors overshadowed grace.
To this day, if anything I say does not speak to the person in the back row, to someone like me or her, it’s not worth saying. I have to remember where people really live. Hope cannot smother or bypass, but must only gently enter.
If our words only work for the well-off, able-bodied, and undisturbed, then maybe we’re
1) only speaking to popular powerful folks,
2) expecting profit from big pockets, or
3) comfortable outside reality.
I have a litmus test when new theological movements pop up. Will it matter to one of my dying patients and their families? Maybe that’s basic and unfair. But that litmus test has simplified and clarified my faith.
I still make this mistake, but always a reminder to myself: If it doesn’t work in the end, it won’t work at the start. If it doesn’t work for the wounded, it won’t make you whole. If it means a lot of arguing and posturing instead of compassion and action, I’m too tired to care. I don’t. Leave it out of the patient’s room and keep it on your platform.
Jesus is with the wounded and that’s where I want to be. Bottom line, dotted line, and end of the line.
Keep me where the people are.
One thought on “Who I Speak For”
I like your litmus; it comes from the same box as mine, but mine has the tag, “Is it eternally, or only temporarily, important?”
While in seminary I served a student congregation, and a couple who sat in the front row, neither of whom finished high school, had the loving courage to say to me that they didn’t really understand what I was saying. So I began to preach using simple sentence forms, more metaphors and examples, and, similarly to you, to those two dear saints through whom The Spirit moved.