Living with Loss
By Glenn Hager
After twenty years in pastoral ministry and never being unemployed in my life, I am not a pastor and I don’t even have a job. For me this is the culmination of a ten-year odyssey of trying to redirect a divided, declining church. It eventually turned into a restart situation. We sold our building, relocated, the whole bit, only to have key people leave before the restart was given a chance. I had to close my church. I lost my dream. I felt like I was dying. Come to find out that was only the first blow. The second blow came from a nearby church that was considering putting me on staff or offering a key volunteer position. They strung me along for four months only to come to the conclusion that they didn’t know me and they thought it strange that someone who was a senior pastor for several years would “just want to serve” (which was exactly what I wanted). The third blow was my prolonged unemployment, now approaching one year. I feel empty! I feel devalued, shelved, mistreated, isolated, generally screwed over. It has been hard for me to describe how I feel lately without dipping into a hitherto dormant cache of profane words.
Feeling the Pain
The pain of this loss overshadowed any other pain that I had experienced. I felt ashamed to feel it so powerfully. I wondered what it was saying about me for this thing to be so shattering. God’s call to church work was always just that. I didn’t ask for it. It just came. It burned bright and hot only to be ripped away from me. I didn’t get it. I still don’t get it. Not long ago, I talked to a denominational official, incredibly successful in his work, only to hear in his voice that since he left the pastorate he has felt displaced like a wanderer. Even more recently, I talked with a former pastor who works with a ministry that tries to help wounded pastors such as myself. He said that he had been out of pastoral ministry for eight years and “I’ll never get over it.” (His words.) I thought, “Thanks for the encouragement!”
Getting Over It
Here is a Colombo style question, “Why are we always trying to get over it?” Here is a pretty good knee-jerk reaction, “Because it hurts so bad and in general, stinks.” Think with me a little deeper. Think about other severe losses like the death of someone you deeply loved. Did you get over it? Probably not. Have you learned to live with it? Probably so. Psychologists wrote several years ago about the stages of grief that occurs after a great loss. If I am not mistaken, they are denial, anger, bargaining, and finally, acceptance. It is remarkably, only as I write this that I think that I may have done a little (or a lot) of battle with each of these. Obviously, if you have some of those feelings, you are just being normal. You have experienced a terrible, heart-rending loss. Admit it! Grieve it! Pour you heart out to God and to whomever else you can. It stinks! It hurts! It probably wasn’t fair! Yet, here you are. Now what?
Grieve. Talk about it. Then begin to accept God’s presence in your grief. I know, you may be pretty ticked off at God right now. You can tell him that too. If David could whine and complain to God and ask unanswered questions, then I guess we can too. But sooner or later some of your old sermons are going to come back and haunt you. You know the ones about God’s special presence close beside you as you walk through the darkest valley. Sooner or later we have to reckon with what we know is true, even if our circumstances would seem to deny it. He is with you. Your recent experience, failure, sin, victimization, injustice, or combination thereof does not define you and you are not limited by it. Your relationship with him does define you! As you walk through the valley, remember:
The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. (Psalm 23:1-3 NLT)
Living the Adventure
Have you spent countless hours wondering why this thing has happened to you? Me too. We all can learn some important lessons at times like this. Yet, a new friend recently reminded me that we need to stop living (and re-living) the past and stop fretting over the future and start living now . . . right now!
Remember the man that Jesus healed who was blind from birth? The disciples wanted to know why he was born blind, just like you want to know why your misfortune has happened to you. Jesus’ answer? “He was born blind so that the power could be seen in him.” (John 9:3b NLT) I used to say, “O.K. that (my misadventures in ministry) is behind me. Now I am ready for the next adventure.” Now I believe that Jesus is saying, “This is the adventure. It has already begun. I want my power to be seen in you!”