Thursday, March 20, 2014

god doesn't take, god receives

Last summer two of my Stephen Ministers (lay church people trained to do pastoral care) helped me start a grief support group at church.  If you're not in ministry this may sound weird but... it was great!  We had a good group that was open to sharing, and with three leaders conversation remained thoughtful and purposeful.  

Since last summer, though, attendance has declined a bit.  We're down to three people, and three leaders.  Honestly, I love our small group, but the size has been a bit disappointing to me, personally.  Like most pastors, I get caught up with numbers.  "Where are all the grieving people for our grief group!?" I ask myself.  But then I realize how strange that sounds.  "The number of people at grief group is not a measure of my success as a pastor."  This is one of my mantras.  

In reality we've had a number of people graduate from the group, which is a good thing.  It means that they are processing, and doing well.  The scarier reality, though, is that I want people to need me, which is not a good thing.  Granted, it's something we all do.  And, I'm aware of it, which helps.  

I often find that when I get disappointed or frustrated with my work, God has infinite ways of humbling me.  And I was reminded of this yesterday when our grief group met.  Three leaders, only two participants.  My thoughts going in, while I knew they were irrational, were, "this is a waste of our time," and, "what the heck am I doing here?"  Just keeping it real, folks.  Pastors have bad thoughts, too.

As soon as the conversation started, though, I felt the Holy Spirit moving- as She is apt to do.  We started talking about how sometimes God gives us gifts that are confusing- how grief might be a gift because, in time, it allows us to be more empathetic people.  Sorrow makes way for compassion, and that is how God makes goodness out of the badness in the world.

The question came up, of course, about how sometimes it seems impossible that God could be involved in the bad things that happen, like when a child dies.  "Why would God take a child?" someone asked.  

As per usual in grief group I didn't offer too much, right away.  The talking continued and the question was discussed without interjection from the pastor- I like to hold back and see how the conversation unfolds.  And although I wanted to hear what they all had to say, in my grumbly, self-righteous mood I was not prepared to be blown away by what they had to say.

As if it was scripted by some famous theologian, one of the Stephen Ministers answered, "I don't think God takes.  I believe that God receives."

Tears came to my eyes.  What a response.  How beautiful?  "God doesn't take, God receives."

I had never heard this before, so if it does come from some theological source I'm not aware of it.  And, frankly, how much more of a reminder did I need that ministry is not about me?  Thankfully God doesn't keep score, because I was at a loss for words.

Sometimes we don't even need to pay attention for these moments of grace, because they hit us like a ton of bricks right on the chest.  These words that just flow from people's mouths that are so wonderful they make it hard to breathe in the good news you just heard them say.

I walked away from grief group reminded of why I love church.  Where two or three are gathered, there you will find Jesus.  Whether you expected to or not.

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