Thursday, November 06, 2008

On the Other Side

I spend a fair amount of time visiting with people. And, as a pastor, I've done my share of hospital visitations. I've been with young parents shortly after they delivered their babies, I've sat with men and women who have come out of surgery, I've prayed at the bedside of people who just received devastating medical news. I've often walked into hospitals as a "man on a mission," the pastor on his way to sit and pray with his parishioners who are experiencing medical trauma of one sort or another.

Which is why the whole surgery experience was just plain odd. For the first time, I was the guy in the bed, the guy being wheeled down the hallway, the guy getting poked and prodded and stuck with needles and asked a hundred questions ("Is anybody abusing you?"). I kept thinking "wait - I'm supposed to be on the other side of this bed, the guy in control of the situation, the guy doing the ministering, not the helpless one having everything done to him."

Even as I was being wheeled down the hallway into the surgical suite, it became almost surreal, like "this isn't how this is supposed to work." And a couple days later, when Doug came by the house on a pastoral visitation call, in which he was the pastor and I was the "recovering guy," it was just too weird.

Sunday was the same. I attended church on Sunday. That's all I did. Other people called the people to worship, other people prayed, other people made the announcements, somebody else preached. I didn't do anything accept sit and stand and sit and stand (and start to fidget when the tylenol began to wear off. . .). Again, it was all backward. I was "the guy in the pew" rather than the one leading it all. It was pretty surreal (of course, that may have been the drugs, too).

Which, in the end, was probably all a good thing. To have to give up control, to put myself at the mercy of so many others, to experience the helplessness and lack of power. . .those are not things I'm so good at. It feels good to sweep into the hospital, knowing I'm doing what's expected and I'm fulfilling a calling and playing an important role. But we know that the call of the Christian is a call to relinquish control, to give up power and prestige. I don't know how often I get the chance to be completely dependent upon everybody else. So it's probably a good experience to be "on the other side." I would hope it all makes me that much more sensitive and empathetic to those I visit from here on out, as I've now truly been one of them. I've lain in that bed and felt helpless. I've sat in the pew and had to trust others to lead me through worship.

The other thing I've figured out is this: it's okay to be vulnerable in front of the congregation. In fact, I think there are times when the church needs the opportunity to turn things around, to show their love and appreciation and care toward their pastor. They don't need Superman, they need somebody who is human, who has hopes and dreams and fears and hurts, just like they do.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had way back in the first church I served. It was late in the evening, following a youth group meeting, and three girls in the group were sharing their frustration with me. And the core of it was this: "Dan, we tell you all about our problems, all about the things that bother us, we tell you everything in our lives, and you never tell us anything about what's going on in your life!" They were actually mad at me because I was holding some emotional distance from them. I was the leader, the youth pastor, and I thought I needed to show strength, to be impervious, to stand strong in the face of life. What they told me that day was that they needed me to be human. They wanted to share in my life as people, not as pastor-parishioner. They wanted true human relationship, not a static leader/student relationship.

And I'm still learning that lesson. I'm still learning that not only is it okay, it's truly necessary to let this relationship be reciprocal. As I minister to the people of this church, they need to minister back to me. As I love these people, I need to let them love me as well. And sometimes that means getting into the hospital bed and becoming the patient, of sitting down and letting them lead. Of letting them become Minister to me, in every meaning of that word.

So maybe my little jaunt to the other side made me just a little more human once again. At least when I say "I feel your pain," I really mean it, because my eye really hurts right now. Anybody want to bring me some tylenol?

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