Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pastoral tears

When you sign up for the job of a pastor, no one tells you there will be tears. They mention you will be on call at times, that people will misunderstand you and sometimes confuse you, and that you might sometimes be emotionally tired.

But they forget to mention the tears. In seminary or otherwise. At least that is my experience.

You do not realize at first that sometimes you will be helping people who are so emotionally and spiritually and physically broken that all you want to do is lie down on the floor and cry with them. They didn't tell me that I would usually end up crying later, after they are gone, when I am alone with God and asking "Why?" When I am begging God to give me His vision of restoration for them. Asking that he would help me believe that all things are possible with him.

They did not tell me that those who are the most broken would bring the most joy to my heart, as I witness God's work in them. Sometimes these things go in fits and starts, two steps forward, three steps back, and over again, but nevertheless, there is an undeniable look in someone's eye when they believe God loves them and wants to make a way for them. Repentance before God is the gateway to new life, and it is so heart-achingly beautiful that I almost look away. It blows my mind that I get to see these transformations as they are happening, that I am a witness to the power of God's love in the heart of the broken.

You see, they did not tell me that next to my Bible, I would need a box of tissues in my office, stashed in my glove box, crammed into my purse. (Or that I would constantly be dispensing of a used-up tissue in my coat pocket.)

They did not share with me that occasionally I would cry because I had no words left to share with the hurting, with those who are not ready to see beyond themselves. That I would cry because they were not ready to receive all that God longs to offer them. That at times I would be a weeping prophet who didn't have clearance to speak all that my heart held.

No one happened to mention this. Though maybe they tried. Perhaps there are no words to express pastoral tears and so it is useless to try. Yet there they are, these tears, binding me to God's heart, spilling out like love all over those who need a touch from God, cleansing the pain, making way for the newness  Jesus longs to bring to every aching heart.

And just beneath the tears? Deep, abundant joy.

It is the story retold, the story of deep pain on Good Friday and brilliant joy on Easter Sunday. It is the story of new life waiting to burst forth all around me, and for this reason, the tears are worth it. I wouldn't trade them for a minute.

What in your experience brings you to tears? Do the tears give way to joy—and if so, how?


  1. This is so refreshing!! There is so much spiritual hoop la (?) out there that this perspective is so refreshing & humbling. Thank you.
    Becky G.

  2. You're right. This needs to be part of the training for pastors. In the counseling field, the box of tissue is as much of an office necessity as business cards, and we are prepared not only for our clients' tears, but our own. Why shouldn't this also be true in the pastorate?

  3. Last semester in seminary I took a counseling skills class which may prove to be one of the most practical and helpful classes for doing ministry. I have heard the stat that for pastors with small staffs nearly 50% of their ministry is pastoral counseling of the type you described. Next to the Bible and Kleenex as essentials, add empathy.
    We people are messy which makes God's grace, love and patience with us even more amazing.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I took one counseling class in seminary, and yes, it was helpful. But still, no real discussion about the tears. If what they say is true, and we women are more "affective" in our work and ministry, I believe tears are a gift to us and to others.

    I also recently discovered that telling another of the anger I feel at the mistreatment or abuse they have suffered is a significant tool in expressing the heart of God to them. It is so often a starting point to healing.

    Another lesson learned just this week: sometimes the messiest sessions with people in ministry, those in which you aren't sure you actually helped at all, often help just because a person is being HEARD. Listening is not to be underrated!

    In all these ways, we are the hands and feet and tears of Jesus. It's a beautiful thing.

  5. Could it be, perhaps, that seminaries and classes are run mostly by men? Just a thought...

  6. Eric: It could be...and it is. :) God bless them. We desperately need both perspectives!

  7. Thank you Suzanne for your thoghts, which are so true and on point. You are such a BLESSING to me and the tears I have shed after talking to you does have a place in our life and its wonderful you are willing to share in tears. Thank you for you and what God is doing thru you to help each of us in your own special way, tears and all.

    A.T. 1-21

  8. I am a sensitive and highly empathic person this skill set is both a blessing and a curse. I asked my professor if it was okay to cry with clients. He told me that I am in the driver's seat. I am able to cry with my clients though one of us needs to be in control of the session. My client is able to lose herself in uncontrollable tears and I allow myself to weep with her words are sometimes rarely spoken though I am always praying in my heart. I keep two boxes of tissues in my office. One box in on my desk and the other one on a table near where my clients will sit down for a session with more in a cabinet. I believe this is why Jesus tried to leave the masses so he was able to gather his emotions and spend time with His Father. The masses also had tendencies to follow him.

  9. Empathy -- rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

    In my church there are boxes of kleenex everywhere -- pews, pulpits, window sills -- everywhere.

    But there is still that question: Who weeps with the pastor? There are so many things that isolate pastors from others, from parishoners to ministry colleagues and superiors.

    My pastor and I are friends, probably the best contribution I can make to my fellowship.

  10. Thank God for you, Ron! Who weeps with the pastor, indeed. One often gets the sense that when someone asks how you are doing they do not exactly want to know. I have one person I meet with weekly who prays for ME after I finish praying for her. I feel seen, noticed, and appreciated when that happens.