Last night I had dinner with a friend who has known me since my last year of seminary. We had no idea when we met this friendship would grow or that our professional lives would weave together. As I drove home from dinner, along city streets I rarely drive, surrounded by more vehicles than I see in a normal week in my own town, I was thinking about how valuable these friendships we are given prove to be over time.
The reason this came to mind was the question my friend asked and then her response. She asked me, “How are you doing with your grief?” I replied, “I am sad.” She replied, “Yes.”
For those of you readers not aware we are in a season of funerals. A season of funerals is the name I have given to those times when we have a number of funerals in a shortened time frame. Sometimes we reach double digits in the course of a few months, sometimes we have a handful in the course of a month or two. Always, these seasons seem to catch us by surprise.
My friend’s question and response acknowledge three things: one, that I am grieving the death of people I love; two, that it is okay I am sad; and three, I am known and loved. Often I hear from others that pastors do not really love the people they serve, and that a good pastor will be able to move quickly through the emotions surrounding a death in the community. I have always disagreed with this idea. I think this is a misunderstanding of the reality of sharing life and ministry with others.
The reality is pastors are people who come to love the community God has called them to serve. Pastors grieve along with the community when someone dies, but they also grieve themselves. The longer you live in a community, the more life you share with the community, the more friendships you grow, the more your lives are woven together. The death of someone in that community pulls on a thread, changes the way the tapestry looks, and makes it more noticeable someone else is missing.
My faith assures me I will see those people again, and one day when I can look back on the tapestry of my life I will be able to see how all the people I have encountered, all those threads, have been woven together to create something beautiful and unique. I hold on to that hopeful promise and look forward to that day.
It is that promise that allows me to acknowledge I am sad. To be honest that my tears are on the surface during this season. It seems to me being able to name my sadness and cry my tears allows me to honor the love I have been given by those no longer here with us, while also honoring the love I have with all the other people who have been woven into my life.
Last night my friend stood beside me, literally and figuratively, in my grief. She did not push me to share or even ask me to explain, she let me name my sadness and she held that space for me. That moment walking down a city street, surrounded by buildings, people, vehicles, and noise, felt holy.
This morning reflecting back on that moment I am struck by how the theme of the first week of Advent met me on a city street. The theme from our liturgy last Sunday was hope, and we were encouraged to recognize the moments of hope we encounter in our days. In all the good moments of this first week, it was that holy moment last night that broke open my heart. There was much around us on that sidewalk to fill me with hopelessness, yet on an unfamiliar street the Holy Spirit moved in my heart and filled me with hope.
As this first week of Advent draws to a close, I am mindful of all the threads of friendship woven into my life. I am astonished I have known so many people who continue to demonstrate to me what it means to love, to be a friend, to be human, and to share this life with others. I am thankful for the lessons I continue to learn and a faith that continues to deepen. I am eager for the coming holy moments in which my hope will be renewed and grow. I live in anticipation of the day when all our sadness will be no more, and in its place will be a knowledge of how deeply we are loved and connected.
Onward I go stumbling toward that promised day. May your journey this Advent season break open your heart to an eternal love that is beyond measure, and fill you with hope, even in your sadness. Remember you are a valuable thread in many tapestries.