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Self-potrait 1988

I had spent a few days in the hospital with some significant heart symptoms. When I returned to the pulpit after my release, I thanked the people for the many get-well cards, encouraging words, and generous offers of help that came to my wife and me, but I told them that there was also one card that had come with the others. Unsigned, it had asked, “What are we supposed to do, if our pastor is ill? We can’t get the help that we need when we have a sick pastor.”

In my notes for that Sunday in winter, 1984, I said that I must try to answer this question, as much for myself as for whoever wrote it. First, my physicians assured me that I could expect to get control of this issue if I took certain steps and continued doing so the rest of my life. I could return to work and have the heart to do it. Second, ministers are human and will get sick, some more often than others. The church will survive, and sometimes it will prosper, as people share more of the load and cooperate with one another in getting things done that the minister cannot do. Third, we are in this church together in all circumstances, good and bad, much like a marriage, and God’s power is most visible when we are at our weakest.  I had certainly felt that power, during the previous two weeks, when so many had taken time to provide what was needed, and I had gained in understanding of what I faced and what I needed to do about it.

I never learned who had expressed those fears in the “get well card,” and I don’t know whether the writer was embarrassed or not about my reference to those words from the pulpit, but the sentiment probably did everyone a favor.

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