There are many who are praying for students, teachers, parents, neighbors, police officers, social workers, neighbors, friends and family members in the midst of the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. I have prayed for them numerous times in the past several days as well.
But this week I can’t stop thinking about and praying for the pastors, priests and religious leaders in Newtown, CT. They are being looked to by thousands of people – both directly and indirectly – for strength, for comfort, for wisdom and for answers – many that will never be known in the light of such evil.
And they are humans and parents, too – people who need to grieve, to hurt, to cry, to pull their kids close and to ask difficult and scary questions themselves.
Several years ago, I had the terrible privilege of leading the funeral of an eleven-month old boy who died tragically and suddenly.
I will never forget the horror on the faces of the little boy’s parents.
I remember the face of a mommy who just wouldn’t stop the tears, where no amount of Kleenex boxes could keep up with her.
I remember the direct and desperate questions from aunts and uncles and grandparents over lunch in the fellowship hall.
I remember the intense shaking of a sobbing father who kept whispering why? why? why? why? as I wrapped him tight during an extended embrace after the service.
I remember almost losing it while I was speaking to a grieving sanctuary of friends and family.
I remember losing it when I got to the car for in first moment by myself with no one around.
I remember thinking I don’t want to have to lead something like this again.
But in Newtown, the group of ministers there have to participate and lead over two dozen funerals and memorial services of children and adults this week. I can’t even begin to imagine what that is like. Planning services. Meeting with families. Crying with them. Embracing them. Going to cemeteries. Calling funeral home directors. Praying with neighbors. Offering hope. And preparing for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. For the best and most experienced clergy of them all, there is no manual, no seminary class and no book that can equip you for something like this.
The thought hit me yesterday morning: as these pastors care for others, who is caring for these pastors? My heart is welling up for the Newtown clergy. Maybe it’s because I know a great deal about the head and heart of a pastor, as I am one – and I spend part of my life walking alongside of pastors and leaders during significant kairos moments in their lives. I keep crying for them, praying on their behalf. Could there be a larger, more significant and more horrific kairos moment they could be dealing with than what happened last week at Sandy Hook?
Alongside of police officers, EMTs, doctors and social workers, pastors are on the front lines – and they will continue to be for weeks, months, years and decades to come. This is stressful and incredibly exhausting for them, their spouses, their children, their relationships and in almost every detail of their own lives, as they try to make sense of it all, like everyone else they are seeking to comfort. They are asked to run a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual marathon for which there is no clear or defined finish line.
Last night I spoke with my friend Jim Pace, who pastors a campus church at Virginia Tech – and who pastored his congregation (and many more in Blacksburg, VA) through the shootings on campus a few years ago. He knows more than anybody what the pastoral stress, burden and exhaustion looks and feels like in the wake of a horrendous tragedy. In many ways, he still feels the effects of that tragedy years later. Pastors in and around Newtown have invited Jim to come and be available to support, comfort, pray for and process with these pastors (and other people in the area) at some time in the future. Jim asked if I would consider joining him on that trip, an invitation with which my wife and I are praying through right now.
Would you pray along with me for these ministers and their families – today, this week and in the difficult months ahead – as they seek to provide counseling, encouragement, comfort and a hope that points clearly in the direction of Jesus?