Blessings Precede You

Harbinger of Spring. Image by Morna Crites-Moore via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In my last Working Preacher article, “How to Preach the News without Drowning,” I encouraged preachers to take a few minutes’ reflection on how we would want to respond to the next national tragedy.

Never did I think it would come so soon. Nor that it would hit so close to home.

This is not an article about all of the politics, policy, opinion, and jargon around the November 5 Texas church shooting. This is an article about preachers, like you, who have to stand in the pulpit just days or hours after the next tragedy.

It’s about your capacity to take these national grief hits: to hold your parishioners through their pain and sorrow; to advocate, argue, work for safety and change; to preach and serve in the midst of tragedy; and then to come home at night, peel back the cover on your own pain, and have anything left inside of you to deal with it. Because deal with it you will, either intentionally or unwittingly, either in a place and space of your own choosing or lashing out at those around you.

How are you?

  • Are you feeling the slow, steady throb of burnout?
  • Are you a first-call pastor wondering what in Christ’s name, literally, you got yourself into?
  • Are you single, wrestling with shouldering the burden solo?
  • Are you staring at your kids or spouse at night, wondering just when was the last time you laughed with them?

How are you?

There are two tropes, two stereotypes that seem to ring true for Working Preachers, especially when in the midst of a time of widespread anxiety or crisis:

  1. We are very good at hunkering down, gritting our teeth, and muscling through it.
  2. Muscling through it takes a heavy toll.

The word toll is appropriate: it suggests not only a weightiness, a burden, but also something that must be repaid at some point. And the danger is that we get to the point where, looking into the future, we cannot image how we can begin to pay ourselves and our loved ones back for the hours spent shouldering the burden. We just cannot see how it can be done.

We just cannot see…

Recently I ran into a woman, Denise, whom I taught last year in her first year of seminary. It had not been an easy year for Denise, but her smile was always bright. At the end of our conversation, we bid each other adieu, and then she turned, gestured gracefully with her hand and said, “May blessings precede you.”

May blessings precede you.

I felt slightly stunned at the impact of absorbing that brief benediction. Because it was a benediction, and yet, at the same time, it was a call to action. A new Word, spoken in my ears, calling me into a new way of seeing: seeing the future as not just more burden to be borne, but a place where blessings already precede me. It rocked me back on my heels. It made me chuckle, purely out of joy. And it made me feel anticipation for the day ahead.

Are you hearing a Word of permission to deal with your own fatigue, grief, pain? Then may blessings precede you.

Are you hearing a Word of inspiration, a call to action, because the world so badly needs preachers who are willing to gesture gracefully, open their mouths, and deliver benedictions and calls to action? Then may blessings precede you.

Wherever you are in your ministry right now, remember three things:

  1. We can only care at full capacity when we ourselves are cared for (sometimes by others, sometimes by ourselves).
  2. Your good words and graceful gestures are so needed wherever God has put you, and God will give them to you exactly when they’re called for.
  3. Watch, as you go, for the blessings that precede you.

 In Rachel Wrenn’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “Notes from the Field,” this pastor and Ph.D. candidate offers a fresh approach to preaching in light of the everyday and the extraordinary.