One of the expectations of being a pastor is that you always know what to say, when to say it and how it should be said. The is even more true when the person who you are ministering to is hurting. In nearly 20 years of pastoral ministry to the same church family I have learned that when someone is hurting all they need is for you to “Just show up.”
When I was younger I would avoid painful situations and people who were hurting because I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I was afraid what I would say would only push them further into despair. The older I got, and the more people I went to see, the more I realized how wrong I was. I was reminded of the power of showing up when I asked one of the kids who grew up in our churches kids ministry what he remembered most about kids church when he was younger. I would have guessed he would say “the fun events” or “the powerful services.” You know what he said? “You came to see me in the hospital and gave me a video game when I got my tonsils out.” He didn’t remember what I said, he remembered that I showed up. I didn’t even remember doing that, and the video game I got him was a soccer video game – he played baseball. I didn’t do or say everything just right but I showed up.
One of the most powerful illustrations of this truth is seen in C.S. Lewis story of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Eustace a very frustrating boy who through the greediness of his own heart fell asleep on a treasure and was turned into a dragon. This caused tremendous amounts of pain and frustration for him and those who were traveling with him. Throughout the voyage a mouse named Reepicheep would call out Eustace when he would act selfish or unseemly, much to Eustace’s frustration. In this part of the story Eustace in the form of a dragon is in a deep despair as he feels that he will never be a boy again. Here is what Lewis says:
“The pleasure (quite new to him) of being liked and, still more, of liking other people, was what kept Eustace from despair. For it was very dreary being a dragon. He shuddered whenever he caught sight of his own reflection as he flew over a mountain lake. He hated the huge batlike wings, the saw-edged ridge on his back, and the cruel, curved claws. He was almost afraid to be alone with himself and yet he was ashamed to be with the others. On the evenings when he was not being used as a hot-water bottle he would slink away from the camp and lie curled up like a snake between the wood and the water. On such occasions, greatly to his surprise, Reepicheep was his most constant comforter. The noble Mouse would creep away from the merry circle at the camp fire and sit down by the dragon’s head, well to the windward to be out of the way of his smoky breath. There he would explain that what had happened to Eustace was a striking “illustration of the turn of Fortune’s wheel, and that if he had Eustace at his own house in Narnia (it was really a hole not a house and the dragon’s head, let alone his body, would not have fitted in) he could show him more than a hundred examples of emperors, kings, dukes, knights, poets, lovers, astronomers, philosophers, and magicians, who had fallen from prosperity into the most distressing circumstances, and of whom many had recovered and lived happily ever afterwards. It did not, perhaps, seem so very comforting at the time, but it was kindly meant and Eustace never forgot it.”
The past four months have been some of the most difficult our family has ever faced. There were times when I wondered if we would ever be back to normal again. It’s in those moments when the beastliness of what you are facing overwhelms you that you begin to feel despair. I can honestly say that in those moments someone always showed up. Tears come to my eyes when I think of our church, or friends and our families. I don’t remember everything everyone said or did as much of it was a blur, what I will never forget is the kindness that people showed in cards, prayers, text messages. I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for showing up for our family.
What I learned from each of you is to “just show up.” In Lewis’ story Reepicheep didn’t say the right thing to make Eustace feel better. In fact he said all the wrong things but what Eustace never forgot was his kindness. My challenge to each of you is this “show up.” Don’t avoid people, friends in pain because you are afraid of saying the wrong thing just show up. Just like that kid who I gave the wrong gift and probably said the wrong thing, he didn’t remember what I said he remembered who I was. That is what every kid in our church needs, every family struggling, every friend who lost a loved one is going to remember not what you say but who you are. Just show up.