Saturday, July 11, 2009

Confusion and Affirmation

Earlier this week I spent an hour or so with the committee which oversees my movement, such as it is, toward ordination in the Presbyterian church. In another three weeks they will recommend to the Presbytery, which is our regional governing body and oversees such things, that I move on to the next step.

I don't know what other such meetings for other inquirers (that's what I'm called at this stage) are like. My last two have been mostly about my son's death and its aftermath. The members of the committee are extremely supportive and I am extremely honest. I think it has helped to keep up with this blog, as I am not disturbed by questions about how I manage my work, what kinds of accommodations professors have offered me, how we are planning to mark the one-year anniversary, how I take care of myself.

Someone asked me at one point what I thought they should be asking me. That was a good question, and one I had not anticipated. Later, I thought of two things.

What is it like, to survive this kind of loss?

You learn to to live with constant pain. There is nothing that happens, nothing that anyone says, that doesn't remind you of something. When your Hebrew professor says in the middle of class that you can remember how to pronounce the word for "tent" (oh-hell) if you have ever spent the night in a tent during a rainstorm, your mind immediately moves to a night on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park which you have not thought about for years, and the drying-out routine the morning after, and your son's good-humored laughter. The laughter you had been foolish enough to count on hearing for the rest of your life.

As pastors, what should we know, what should we say, when we go to the home of a family where the sudden death of a child has occurred?

You shouldn't say anything, really. You should begin with, "Tell me about your child," and then you should listen. And you should keep listening, for months and years. You won't have the time, and if you have children of your own it will be too hard, but you should do it anyway.

I don't know why I didn't think to say those things. Maybe because I didn't think they were being asked. It's often hard to guess where people are in their curiosity. Most of the time, they seem to be nowhere close to the reality and, regardless of their genuine concern and interest, or perhaps because of it, it feels as if it would be cruel to fill them in. Better to live without this knowledge for as long as you can.

As we talked, I thought about my best friend at seminary. A vibrant, energetic woman, bursting with gifts for ministry. I thought, Her enthusiasm would fill this room. I should be her.

And then one of the gentlemen, a retired minister, said, We are hearing a lot of good things here, and I just want to say, I would love for you to be my pastor.

Go figure.

(Cross-posted at Search the Sea.)


Purple said...

Gannet, this gave me chills (the good kind) as I read this. I hope all those pastor-types on your committee took good notes and apply it in their ministries.

Carol said...

Through the chills that Purple described and the tears at your stark pain and honesty, I had a huge smile. And yes, those pastors can learn a lot from you. As can all those whom you minister. In fact, I view this blog as a ministry of sorts.

Presbyterian Gal said...

I made scrambled eggs for breakfast today because I haven't cooked much since leaving my husband. My mom enjoyed them and we did puzzles.

I read about your courage and pain and perseverance and this has helped inspire me to be able to make scrambled eggs for breakfast today.

To experience a connection with other women who lead with honesty, courage and love saves my life every day.

From my tiny corner of the ether, I say thank you.

Julia said...

thank you for such a thought provoking post. I have often wondered what to say to someone in your situation and your response was very enlightening. I appreciate all the honesty you've shared -- your words will be a tremendous help to many people.

Jodie said...


I KNOW you will be a thoughtful and compassionate pastor.

You won't preach at people, you will minister to them.

You won't tell them the answers. You will teach them to live with the questions.

And you will always be real. No platitudes. You know what life is really like. The is vs. the wish-it-was.

I would trust you with my prayers.

And I would love to have you as my pastor.

Rev SS said...

You pastor all of us who read this blog ... and help me be a better pastor. Hope the retired pastor will read this blog so you can be his pastor too. Shalom

Anonymous said...

Everything that everyone else said... you are going to be an off the chain pastor!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I'm so glad you received that affirmation.

Lisa :-] said...

Robin, you have an acute mind, an open and generous heart, and an amazing ability to communicate (or not, when circumstances warrant.) Of course you will make a fine pastor...

Karen and Joe said...

What a lovely ending to, what had to be, an anxious type of meeting. I concur with the others that you are now uniquely equipped to be the best sort of pastor. I was also struck that you want to talk about your son, because that's also how I am. I would love to hear more about him in this blog if you are up to it.

Magdalene6127 said...

I can understand why that man would have said that... One of your great gifts for ministry is your honesty, and that comes through so clearly in all you write hear.