December 13, 2017

Daniel Grothe: A Pastor’s Midnight Musings

mike_walking

A Pastor’s Midnight Musings
By Daniel Grothe

It’s midnight, and my wife and three kids are sound asleep. Another Sunday night walk is in the books. I’m a pastor; that’s what I do.

Yes, today was the day, the Lord’s Day, the one day each week when Christians from the four winds of our city come together in the same place. And while we know we’ve been sent by the Spirit into our city to be poured out, we also believe a weekly infilling must precede any such over-brimming. Giving is only made possible by first having received something; a herald is only as good as what she has heard.

So today a group of us gathered at New Life Church to lift our voices to God in praise and thanksgiving, and to feast on the Scriptures. We came to confess our sins, getting rid of the very poison that, if left unchecked, neutralizes the nourishment found in the sacrifice of Jesus, his broken body and shed blood. And right before we left, we heard the Benediction, the weekly now-get-back-out-there-and-go-for-it-because-you’ve-been-empowered-by-the-Spirit prayer of blessing.

And that’s why I went on a walk. Because with so much beautiful activity crammed in the space of a few short hours, I have found that a walk is about the only way for me to begin to absorb all that happened.

Going to Church (detail), Tolliver

Going to Church (detail), Tolliver

On this particular Sunday night walk, I thought about a friend who I saw today at church. He’s in his mid-sixties, has an advanced post-graduate degree with a long, successful career that followed it, and just over a year ago he was running long distance races. Today at church he sat slumped in a wheelchair, depleted of energy, barely able to speak, and suffering from a mysterious condition that doctors haven’t been able to diagnose. He insists on coming to church, and he insists on being wheeled down front to the altar for prayer after every service.

I thought about his darling wife who faithfully gets him up every week, shaves his face, dresses and feeds him, and loads his handsome 6’5’’ frame and his wheelchair in their tiny car to come worship Jesus.

I thought about the privilege of being asked to wheel him down front for prayer, and the privilege of wheeling him out to his car after we were done.

I thought about the privilege of him wanting to expend the little energy he has talking to me about the fact that we both played college basketball, separated by a span of thirty-five years.

I thought about the vulnerability it must have taken him to ask me to lift him into his car, and the gentleness that comes with having to have someone buckle you in your seat.

I pondered how costly an act of worship it was for them to even be in the sanctuary this morning. And then I wondered if I would have the same gritty “somebody take me to church!” mentality if I found myself in the same situation. (I quietly prayed to be found faithful.)

And when I had buckled my friend in his seat, I hugged him and kissed him on top of his bald head. (Remember, the feeble need affection in a most pronounced way.) I told him that I’m honored to go to the same church as him. I told him that he’s an example for us all of what it means to live faithfully. I told his wife that she’s as sweet as they come, and that any of us would be lucky to have someone as gracious as her, and that the Lord couldn’t be any more pleased with her life of generous service to her husband.

I meant every word.

Then after pondering all that, as I was nearing the end of my late-night walk, I thought: How sad that people willingly choose to forgo a gift so beautiful as the church.

Come to church, friends. And keep your eyes open, because if you do, and if you have even the slightest bit of imagination, you’ll see the blazing beauty of God on full display. Sometimes it’ll be wrapped in frailty, and sometimes it’ll be gleefully running the aisles in the faces of little children; sometimes the beauty will take the form of bold and sacrificial giving, and other times it’ll be heard in the elemental cry to be known and loved. But beauty you will surely find in the church.

For if Jesus has made her his Bride, she must be some kind of special.

Comments

  1. Deeply moving – thank you for having your Shepherd’s heart!

  2. Senecagriggs yahoo says:

    I spent the last year in church sitting next to a friend of mine who had terminal cancer. He died in hospice Christmas Eve. We had some conversation over his condition and the simple memorial service at the church was moving and wonderful. I told him I wanted to be his “aide de camp” the last year of his life. But he rarely called upon me though I lived just up the street. I’m so glad I got to be his friend in the last year of his life.
    These are the things you might miss if you’re a “none” or “done.” The assembling of Christ followers is so much more important than whatever the pastor may make, or the elders may say. They are like the rest of us, very fallible, prone to tempation and uneasy with grace.

    • -> “These are the things you might miss if you’re a “none” or “done.” ”

      Yes.

    • These are the things you might miss if you’re a “none” or “done.”

      I understand your point, and agree. But I’ve equally noticed new people outside the walls who don’t have that person, and you become that for them. The least of these.

  3. I needed this exhortation. Just recently I have been wondering if I’m getting tired of this church thing and am wanting an extended break.Now, maybe not so much…

  4. I wonder if there are those in the congregation who would have the time to care for this man during the week and give his wife a break. Care giving is exhausting and just the chance to take a nap or walk around a store or whatever would mean so much to her I am sure. Maybe a couple could pitch in. The man could stay home with the man and the woman could take the wife out for lunch or to a movie. Even delivering hot meals would mean so very much to her I am sure.

    We have to be careful not to “spiritualize or romanticize” a situation like this. Practical help is necessary and very welcome.

    • You’ve voiced my concerns, Adrienne. We exist in a society in which extended family networks are generally not involved in care-giving situations like this, and the responsibility and work involved falls to one or two primary caregivers. This can often be exhausting and draining work, beyond the capacity of an individual to sustain over time.

      But sustain they must, since no, or little, help is at hand. This can have very unfortunate, and destructive, results, both for the caregiver, and the one being cared for. Add to this a frequent reluctance to ask for outside help, even when it’s offered (for a possible example, see Senecagriggs yahoo’s comment above, about his/her offer of help in such a situation not being taken up), and the double whammy of isolation and burnout hit hard.

      Sadly, contemporary Western society, while having gone a long way toward emancipating individuals from dysfunctional social and family networks, has nothing with which to replace the enormous resources such networks often provided to people in such situations in former times. If it’s true that it takes a village to raise a child, it’s also true that it takes a village to help those with chronic illness, and their loved ones.

      • Adrienne and Robert – exactly. Caregiving is hard, much harder than those who have never done it could ever imagine.

        Been there, done that.

  5. Very nicely written. Good article, Daniel. It even seems to support the notion “church is what you make it.” If you go into it with a caring heart of servitude, you might just find Jesus and you might just find church to be a good thing. If you go into to church with a heart of pride and “what’s in it for me,” you might just find church to be full of people just like you and find your church experience to be lukewarm, or worse.

    I posted on yesterday’s Michael Spencer article that church is amazingly schizophrenic, a place where people riddled with cancer are sitting beside people who are celebrating new jobs. Jesus is found in churches where people are laughing and people are struggling, and he’s found when we decide to enter such a place and participate.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    Daniel Grothe, thank you. This resonates with me on several levels.

    Thank you, first of all, for having a pastors heart. You love people. This is easy to see. You say “Remember, the feeble need affection in a most pronounced way.” Amen. May we never forget this.

    “sometimes it’ll be gleefully running the aisles in the faces of little children.” Yes. During our worship services one or two families with small children sit near the front every Sunday. Sometimes during the singing of a hymn, if the music so lends itself, two or three of the children will stand up and do a spontaneous dance with the music. I love this, and I love their parents. They permit the clear, clean, breeze of the Spirit to work into the very lives, emotions, and movements of these children. There is nothing unsettling or rowdy about it, just children with faces and hearts that are still open. And they dance with Jesus.

    Lastly, I love to walk. It clears my mind, assists me in listening. and sometimes opens my mind for words and thoughts of praise, thanksgiving, and petition. I live on a rural road, so have seldom walked after dark for several reasons. But just last eve, the air was crisp, the wind had faded away, and a few stars made themselves visible above the wispy clouds. And I thought about walking. I didn’t do it, and if I did I’d confine it to by driveway. One night I will. The dog and I will walk and listen for the Spirit.

  7. Christiane says:

    Thank you, DANIEL, for this thoughtful and moving post.

    the ‘witness’ of those who attend Church in wheelchairs and suffering from terminal illnesses . . . powerful statements of faith from which the rest of us may draw hope

    ‘sanctuary’, a place of Christ’s calm in the midst of the storm . . . we all need it, as humans need air and nourishment

  8. Thank you for this post – very inspiring. The reminder to keep one’s eyes open to the blazing beauty of the ordinary things that happen at church … to ordinary, beautiful people … awesome!

  9. Thank you

  10. Thank you Daniel for the word, thank you Mike for inviting Daniel to share. I pastor a tiny little church that, like many, has been in decline for many years. My prayer everyday is that I will not go in the record books as the “last” pastor.

  11. Beautiful and inspiring, I am experiencing a similar question like Oscar mentioned in his earlier post. I was almost at the point of just giving up on the church and just decided to find another church in the hope of finding the realities of everything mentioned in this post.