On Ending Well: An Open Letter to a Pastor
To my pastors, and pastors everywhere: Thank you. Thank you for continually encouraging us to keep running this race, pressing us to run better and faster. Thank you for reminding us that we’re almost there- that we can end well. What you do really does make a difference.
It was desperation that made me do it.
My ears perked up when your weekly message ended with the familiar reminder that the pastors are available to meet with people experiencing various issues in their spiritual walk.
A troubled relationship with one person had created ripples of conflict in other areas of my life and I had found myself in what I thought was an inescapable and intolerable situation. I was certain I was right, but that provided no resolution to the conflict in which I was engulfed.
The multiple facets to my situation were like hundreds of strands in a knot with which I wrestled inwardly day and night. I could not see another way and I was emotionally distraught. I don’t like to ask for help, but I had come to the end of my own resources. I emailed you for a recommendation to meet with someone in our church counseling ministry, but you and your wife offered to meet with me instead.
I’m not sure what I was expecting but I know I did not expect that what I learned in our meetings would eventually alter the curve of my Christian walk forever. I know I did not expect the level of compassion that you both showed me. So often we avoid asking for help because we don’t want to dispel the church myth that we have it all worked out, and appear weekly with shiny, happy smiles. I’m utterly grateful for that compassion. When you began to slowly unravel my knot in the light of scripture, and I saw that my problem was deeper than the other person, your compassion made the hard admission of my failings so much easier.
When it would have been possible to get involved in the details of my conflict, you kept the focus on God’s Word, the Bible. It was with skill that you applied those ancient Words to my wound. I remember you telling me that no matter how wrong I thought someone else was or how badly I felt I had been treated, I was still answerable to God for my own behavior. Well of course I knew it at some superficial level, but that day it got my attention and I realized that my failure to live by that very concept was probably keeping me from growing spiritually. Although I hadn’t realized it before, I think I (and many others) believed that some poor behavior is justifiable. Some wrong reactions are admissible. But Jesus didn’t add an “except when” to the charge to love one’s enemies. It became clear that if I was going to go on saying that I believe in God, I was going to have to humble myself and do what He said. Even the hard things. The cost of which, of course, was my own pride and comfort.
As a result of our meetings, the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps Jesus’ most famous words, took on new life. And I have to tell you, I felt a fair amount of dismay when I measured my behavior against those hard words. “Love your enemy.” “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” “Pray for those who persecute you.” “Forgive us… as we have forgiven others.” “Lay up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” “Judge not, that you be not judged.” “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”