This is one of the most painful experiences I have had as a pastor. Fortunately, it has not been common for me. However, this past year I faced this on more than one occasion in a single month. I experienced a flurry of emotions. I realized part of the blessing of a pastor to care for his people as they die, is how the pastor is able to grieve as he ushers them to their grave. When that is taken from us by non-Christian or difficult family not respecting the special relationship a pastor has with his people, the hurt makes it hard to discern how to act in that moment. So then, how are we to think, act, pray, and serve this dying church member when those who make the calls about their care are unsympathetic to the role you as a pastor desire to play in their life? Here are a few that came to my mind as I was in the middle of it:
Seize every opportunity as your last. If I learned anything from this, it is to do all you can to care for your people in such a way so that if you find yourself in this position, you have already prepared that person to face Christ.
Remember you have no rights. Regardless how much you want to be by their side and how much you know they want you there, most of the time family legally possess the power to make this call. Though your possess a deep love for this person, sadly that doesn’t hold up in court if you tried to fight it. One of the ways I was prevented from caring for a church member was the family moved her and wouldn’t tell me where she was. That was their right. Regardless how I felt about it. We are the gatekeepers from a divine perspective. Yet, from an earthly perspective we have little we can say or do. We must accept that.
Realize the family is trying to cope. As my frustration grew for the family prohibiting me to come, I realized their decision may not be directed towards me at all. Instead, in the emotion of the moment, they did what they thought was right and in the best interest of their loved one. It might have been personal. But it might not have been personal at all. The benefit of the doubt for the grieving family is a good and gracious way to face this challenging time for everyone.
God is ruling over this circumstance. As I felt my pastoral rights revoked, betrayed by the family, and sadden that I was kept from that which a pastor longs to do…God was still on his throne. God is sovereign and was ruling over this circumstance. It was this truth that caused me to step back and begin to ponder what He wanted me to learn from these circumstances, instead of making it so much about me.
This post is in part a result of that self-examination and a reflection of the sweet time I had as I went to my sympathetic high priest in those moment for care and comfort. Remember, whether you miss being there or are prohibited from being there…our Savior and Redeemer is always there. He is truly the one who ushers all of his sons and daughters from this world to the next…from life to death, then to eternal life with Him. As I sat on the sidelines against my will for this one, that glorious truth was a comforting thought.