“Oh, The People You’ll Meet And The Places You’ll Go”. . . that’s the title to a Dr. Seuss book often given to people who are changing something in their lives—a graduation from high school, or perhaps a new job, or the first time to travel to someplace very different. It’s a celebration of possibilities and future.
“Oh the stories you’ll hear and the heartbreak you’ll know”. . . .That’s my current paraphrase of the book title as I consider the life of being a pastor.
After two and a half years here, I have a sense that the congregation has begun to trust me and to invite me more into their lives. They tell me their stories.They give me the pictures of their lives.
Each story flows with rich colors. Bright colors of happiness and fun swirl around somber colors of heartbreak and struggle. Each life creates a unique painting, and each stroke of color adds to the whole.
Each life painting differs radically from all others. Some are like the Old Masters, serious, rounded, hinting of a stability and perhaps desperation behind them. Others are like modern impressionists, more wild and open to multiple interpretations. Some seem simply two dimensional, not yet well explored. Others go so deep that an infinite universe is contained in them.
My own life gains color by those stories. My mind hosts a repository of secrets and confidences, kept there forever, swirling around, clashing against each other. Today, those clashes have brought me to a point of understanding why Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying he longed to gather them under his arms, as a hen does her chicks. For I am weeping with my own anguish today.
Stories fill in the background and open our eyes to motivations and reasons for actions and words. Often, one small piece of us collides with one small piece of another person and then misunderstandings abound. The piece we just ran into is without setting or understanding of the whole. It is like the proverbial group of six blind people describing an elephant: The one who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.
As a pastor, I get to interact with the sorrowful, painful, anguished, and sometimes rabidly unrepentant sinful sides of others. These are the facets rarely presented freely when in public, and I hold the privilege of seeing these things very seriously. Thus the secrets forever sealed in my brain.
But when I see someone else proclaiming judgment on another, “She’s a rope; he’s a tree branch” without understanding the bigger picture, I want to cry out, “Stop! You don’t know enough to make this pronouncement!”
“Stop!” I cry. Stop. Stop deciding that you know the hearts and motivations of another when hurts they may have brought your way were probably wholly unintentional. And if they were intentional, then the person doing such actions is in need of passionate prayer, for such a one sits at the edge of hell, nearly lost from God.
Why are we so eager to push people further into that hell rather than invite them back into the “with-God” life? Why, I cry out though my tears, are we so ready to discard people into the junk heap when we find ourselves with a bruised toe or bleeding head from these collisions? Are we eager to find ourselves in that junk heap—that place of malodorous waste, steaming with the bacteria of decomposition?
I doubt it. I really, really doubt it.
Yes, I sit here and weep today.