There never seems to be a deficit in advice on how to be a pastor.
Throughout my ministry, I’ve received both good and bad advice from fellow pastors, friends, family members, and even the occasional upset individual. It comes with the territory. As with all things, it seems that we have more opinions than we have answers.
One of the worst pieces of advice I’ve received is never to allow your congregation to know when you are hurting. It’s the extreme of the best practice to make sure you have appropriate boundaries between yourself and congregation, so as not to become overly dependent upon your congregation for your own self-care. That is important, however taken too far and we never allow our congregation to see our struggles or burdens.
As many of you know and probably have guessed, since June I have struggled with the diagnosis of autism for Noah. It has broken me as a father and I live in a constant state of stress and nervousness as a result.
This really hit home for me, recently, when our family visited an autism support group’s fall festival. I was on edge the entire time waiting for Noah to be judged by the other parents. I waited for him to run away from us and have to chase him down in an unfamiliar place. I waited for him to be treated as an outside. I waited for what we’ve experienced in other places and I was on edge.
This was among people who are the most comfortable and approachable with autistic children, because they, too, are raising their own children with autism, and yet I found myself on the edge. Just imagine, then, how I am in other situations and settings.
I live waiting for Noah to have a meltdown, for onlookers to stare at us when Noah it happens in public, and for people to distance themselves from us because it is easier to ignore someone than to engage them. I’m not saying this is good, but I am saying this is where I’ve been for some time now.
What I have recognize is how easy it is for us to hide from what we are truly dealing with. It is easy to respond to questions of “How are you doing,” with a simple “I’m fine,” even when we are not, because we just want to be nice. We seldom let people in to how we are feeling or how we are handling life’s challenges.
Perhaps it is to our own weakness. I wonder how much more honest and open our communities would be if we were able to be transparent with one another without fear of someone judging us, distancing themselves from us, or offering a thousand words of advice without ever really hearing what we’ve said.
I truly believe there would be more understanding of challenges that we all deal with if we were truly able to live in communities where it was appropriate and healthy to share how we feel. If we truly want to value community, as is one of our values at Ogden Memorial, then it means creating places where people can be their true self and not just the self we present to one another in polite society. True Christian community offers space for pain, struggles, and, yes, weakness, so that we can share our burdens with one another.
Christ calls us to lean on one another, and so my prayer is that we will be that for one another here at Ogden Memorial. Imagine what a difference our corner of our community and world would be if we lived out as a community that was willing to share with each other our true struggles in love.