Night Terrors and Nearness: Real Comfort in Non-Solutions
What our people need in their moments of desperation is what my son needs in the middle of the night. He doesn’t need a lecture about his subconscious, what a dream is, and why it doesn’t need to be feared. Instead, he needs the comfort of knowing I’m there. As pastors, we have the distinct joy of simply being there with our members and, by doing so, reassuring them with the comfort, care, and compassion of God.
One of my sons frequently suffers from night terrors. For those who don’t know, night terrors are like sleepwalking—the person is technically still asleep but acting like they’re awake. My son’s terrors happen a few times a week and usually manifest in his screaming for 5–10 seconds before calming down again and falling back into normal sleep.
But sometimes his terrors are so loud he wakes himself up. When that happens, I typically go into his room, rub his back, and ask him what he was dreaming of that scared him so badly. I reassure him that I’m there; and ten times out of ten, that simple fact brings him all the comfort he needs to fall back to sleep.
Pastoring Like Parenting
Just as children sometimes need just their father’s presence, sometimes Christians need just a pastor’s presence.
The New Testament makes the connection between pastoring and parenting explicit in his list of elder qualifications. Paul tells Timothy that an elder must be able to manage his household well, and then observes, “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5)
The word Paul uses for “care” only appears two other times in the New Testament. Interestingly, they’re both found in Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. The compassionate Samaritan not only delays his journey to tend to the man, he remains with him.
Pastors, too, ought to manage God’s household by giving their people time and attention, like a father, and like the Good Samaritan.
The God Who is There
As under-shepherds, we represent the Great Shepherd to our people. And our God is the God who is there. Over and over in the Bible, we see the Lord reassuring his people with his presence (Gen. 26:3, 31:3, Ex. 3:12, Deut. 31:23, Josh. 1:5, Ps. 23:4, Isa. 43:2, Matt. 28:20). Through all the trials and hardships that God knows a life of faith will bring his people, he doesn’t promise solutions; he promises presence. He promises to care not through unveiled plans but through unceasing proximity.
While this sounds wonderful, if you’re anything like me, it’s a pill that’s often tough to swallow. I’m a “fix it” guy. I tend to be able to find the challenges with a plan and propose solutions.