There was a point during the day when I had an absolutely self-absorbed moment. I started thinking about my Ph.D applications, finding reasons as to why each of my four schools was unlikely to accept me, and getting down about having to make the tough discernment decisions that inevitably come with wanting to pursue both ordination and a Ph.D. In my narrow sight line, I sat, content to be in a funk about how difficult my life felt, and why couldn't this all be easier for me?
And then I woke up. Nothing in particular nudged me out of my own navel-gazing, but as I started to think about my brothers and sisters in Christ, especially here at Trinity, I had a moment of clarity - and shame - about how there are struggles and difficulties in life that a far more important and far more devastating than me having the, well, luxury, of discerning a meaningful future for myself.
There have already been four deaths here in the past two weeks, one of them being a very active, well-loved, and reasonably prominent woman in the congregation whom I spend much time visiting in the hospital earlier in the fall. Her husband - the former staff finance guy - has always been a tough guy, not showing emotion, always appearing unshakable and confident. Seeing him emotional and vulnerable at the funeral, and seeing him the past couple Sundays, significantly less tough-skinned, my heart breaks for him. How difficult - even in old age - to lose your companion, and, in some respects, the person who gave your life a daily purpose.
And if that weren't wrenching enough, there is a man in our congregation who is dying. He and his wife have adopted or are guardians of a number of children, and even a number of their children's children. They are models of Christian love, taking in and loving and providing a family for those who need it the most. There are myriad family complexities, custody battles, and extended family issues, but this couple have done so much to take care of the children who need to be taken care of and who need to be protected from loveless family situations. I am amazed by the warmth and sacrifice that this couple has embodied.
Two weeks ago, this man went into the hospital with kidney stones, they operated, found cancer all over the place, and since then, it has been a terrifyingly rapid deterioration. Going into the weekend, he was put on full life-support, and his wife was told that it was time to start struggling with the impossible decision of removing him from life support and letting him die. They made the decision yesterday, and into today, he is slowly passing from this world. Two of the grandchildren are in our confirmation class, as is another girl who is extremely close to the family. There are a couple children in our Sunday School who are involved in the whole situation. This is indeed a situation that requires the love and ministry of the entire church, and you can tell that the whole congregation is grieving alongside the family. It's heavy. It's terrible.
I suppose that part of ministry is learning how to both care for others and for yourself in these situations, how to preach comfort and pray for peace rather than preaching miracles and praying for healing. As I think about it, the most important part of ministry is indeed being a source of comfort and strength during the transition into death. Because these are the moments when all of our faith is distilled, intensified, and tested. Everything that we believe comes to a head in moments of tragedy and grief. These are the moments when we remember exactly why we have faith - what the ultimate purpose and comfort is in knowing that God loves us and God has promised us eternal life. If we have faith enough for these most vulnerable and these most trying moments, then we have faith enough to face all of the rest of life.
The storm is wild enough for sailing
The bridge is weak enough to cross
This body frail enough for fighting
I'm home enough to know I'm lost
Home enough to know I'm lost
It's just enough to be strong
In the broken places, in the broken places
It's just enough to be strong
Should the world rely on faith tonight
-Jars of Clay, "Faith Enough"