Last week, one of our long time faithful members of our church was taken to the hospital and would probably not live through the night. Her husband of 71 years, stayed home from exhaustion, which is where I first went. I arrived about 10:00 pm. It was one of those moments we live for as pastors. It was hard. It was painful to watch this man hurt with a depth few do.
Yet, I felt so honored to be there in this moment to care for this man in his most desperate hour. This man is a pillar in our church. A faithful leader for over 50 years. Drew the plans for our current building built in the 1950’s. Here he was looking at someone young enough to be his grandson for the answers on how to face life knowing as we sat there his wife would probably not live through the night. Here are a few thoughts I had during our time:
1) Never presume to know what it is like to be him. The worst thing you can do is presume to know what it is like to have to give your wife of 71 years up, when you have not. Just look them in the face and tell them, “Dear brother, I have no idea what you are going through at this moment, but I am so sorry for the pain I’m sure you feel at this moment.” Sympathize, do not rationalize.
2) Ask him to tell stories about his wife. Don’t be afraid to ask bold questions about his wife. That is a part of the grieving process that is good and healthy. You need to see what he is willing to share, but ask the stories of how they met, married, and special wedding anniversaries. It is cleansing, even in this pivotal moment.
3) Remind him God still has a purpose for his life. At one point he looked at me with tears in his eyes and with the most sincere tone said, “What am I suppose to do now?” Don’t try to answer. Simply say, “I don’t know, but if God is leaving you here after she is gone, then God still has a great Christ-honoring purpose for your life. Assure them you intend to walk through this valley with them to figure it out.
4) Comfort him with the hope of Christ. This man’s wife was suffering miserably and had been for almost a year. In fact, his exhaustion came from being her primary care giver at the young age of 91 years old. He watched her suffer. Remind him that those who are in Christ are no longer suffering and are now in the presence of Christ, Himself. Those who watch their loved one suffer, find comfort in this hopeful relief the gospel brings.
I left this man’s house to go see his wife at the hospital and although she lived through the night, she died that next evening. The kindness of the Lord is so apparent in this moments as this man who once struggled to see me as his pastor, was looking to me with a trust and vunerablity like a child to a father.
This is why, dear brothers and fellow pastors, these moments are what we as pastors live for. Not to preach to large crowds or make a name for ourselves, but to look for and seize these precious moments to care for our people in their greatest times of need. You will find, as I anticipate with this newest widower, your relationship with these you care for will never be the same.
Pray for me. I bury his wife later today.