Tuesday, March 31, 2009


When my mother died, I was a sophomore at Ohio Northern University.  This loss was obviously the hardest thing I had ever dealt with.  I spent a week at home for planning the funeral, the visitation, etc.  My mother's internment was on a Sunday afternoon.  That same Sunday evening I came back to school to go to work that night and start classes the next day.  

At the same time I was dealing with this, one of my friends was dealing with the divorce of her parents.  I don't know the details of her family situation, but she left school for the entire semester to deal with the loss of her sense of family.  Even long after I had been back at school, she stayed home, dealing with her loss.  At the time, I thought that she was being childish and overdramatic about her family's situation, and thought that she should come back to school.  She did, but it didn't work out for her.  She ended up leaving school for good.  

I have learned a lot since then, and what I have learned (and I would argue that this is the most important lesson for any person to learn) is that pain is a personal experience.  No one person's pain can be compared to that of another person.  Pain, grief, stress, and all of our other emotions are a personal experience.  Even two people experiencing the same loss feel the pain in different ways. 

What brought this all to front was the time of the semester it is in seminary.  It is the time of the semester when we are all stressed about homework, anxious about not only the upcoming break, but also our plans for the summer and next school year, but it also seems that most people have a life situation or two (or three...) piled on top of that.  What commonly happens, is that one person starts sharing about how they are stressed are, genuinely hoping for some support from the people that are in similar situations, and the person listening tries to one-up them.  It happens a bit like this... 

"Man, I'm just so tired.... I haven't been sleeping well, and I have two papers and a presentation to do before the end of the week..." 

"Oh, that's terrible... but I've got three papers and a DCoM meeting this week, and I'm preaching on Sunday."  

While both people are looking for support (and often, affirmation) the conversation turns from support to a contest over who busier, more over-committed, stressed.  

If we can't even provide care for our friends who are stressed over schoolwork because we are trying to one-up them, how are we ever going to care for someone in situations where their entire life is literally falling apart.  Are we going to say, "Sorry, you're parents are getting divorced and your sense of family is shattered, but my mom just died... I came back to school, and so should you."  While that sentence seems unruly, I actually considered uttering in my lifetime.  

This is all a lesson in pastoral care, but more importantly, it is a lesson in Christian love.  Christian love is not one-upping someone, but putting your own stress, grief, turmoil aside so that you can love someone in the midst of their own context. 

This is a lesson I am still working on learning, but I hope that I can start being an example of this so that others can experience that love, and eventually provide that kind of love for someone else.  

1 comment:

sarah said...

this wouldn't have anything to do with my diatribe on the telephone today would it? lol.

nonetheless, you were the voice of clarity and strength for me- thank you friend.