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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pastorgraphs: “The Oil of Joy for Mourning”

E-Vangel Newsletter
December 17, 2012

Pastorgraphs: “The Oil of Joy for Mourning”

Dr. Wayne Oates, my professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Southern Seminary in Louisville, gave us fledging parsons some good advice when it comes to ministering to those who are in mourning.

First, he told us what NOT to do. Ministers want to make sense of things that are senseless. We want to say something that will make the person who has lost a loved one feel better. So there is a temptation to say such things as, “It must have been God’s will”, or “They are in a better place”, or “Their suffering is over”. Such truisms are NOT what a grieving person wants to hear, and such statements may do more harm than good.

Dr. Oates taught us to do three things.

1.   First, tell them how genuinely sorry you are (and mean it!).

2.   Second, CLOSE YOUR MOUTH! Even if you have some trite statements, the grieving person most likely will not hear it, and more likely may be deeply offended that their loved one’s death is somehow “God’s will”. A grieving heart does not want to hear their loved one is “better off”. Grieving is a long process that will absorb such truths in time, if they apply at all. (I have heard commentators and read Facebook posts that express “rationales” that would be offensive to me if I were the parent of a six year old who was just murdered.)

3.   Third, and most importantly, sit down and cry with them. A genuine weeping that comes from sharing their grief.

Dr. Oates concluded by reminding us that a decade later, the mourner will not remember anything we say, but will forever remember that we were there, sharing their grief. It is what he called “The ministry of Presence”.

To the parents and families of those who died in Connecticut last week, I follow what my beloved teacher taught me. First, I am genuinely sorry for your loss. Honestly, I am shocked and very upset that such a thing could rob you and our world of your loved ones, especially innocent children. Secondly, I am not wise enough to make sense of the senseless. Thirdly, my heart continues to weep with you for your unspeakable loss.

When my words fail, as they so often do, I turn to God’s word. I hear Isaiah saying,

“He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
(Isaiah 6:1-3 selected phrases)

These are the word Jesus read from the scrolls at his “ordination”. In his most important sermon, Jesus referred back to this mission when he said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I don’t know how He is going to do it. It may seem impossible right now. But I trust God’s ability to ultimately turn mourning into joy.

For all of us, last week’s events should remind us that life is unpredictable, and to cherish those we love.

Be assured Newtown, Connecticut, that we are crying with you. In this darkest of all dark moments, take comfort if you are able in the words of Jesus, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of God.”


(P.S. The beautiful “Christmas Angel” in the picture is Olga, daughter of Pastor Elena Sokolova of Svetlaya Methodist Church, Khabarovsk, Russia, whose street children ministry we support. The picture from their Christmas pageant is a reminder how precious children are a gift from God. Pray for Pastor Elena who is having some health concerns.)

From the Quote Garden:
“There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept, things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go.”
~ Author Unknown~

Christ United Methodist Ministry Center
“Christ in the Heart of San Diego”
3295 Meade Avenue - San Diego, CA 92116 - (619) 284-9205

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