Do Pastors Struggle with Living in a Continual State of Grief?

February 02, 2013

Do Pastors Struggle with Living in a Continual State of Grief?

I remember the day my Father passed away. That was my introduction to grief in its most profound form. I've never really forgotten how acute the pain, how debilitating the sorrow. Few things in life garner the kind of weighty emotion that consumes you when you lose someone you love deeply.

Recently I was reflecting on the days following his passing because I was experiencing similar feelings, though not as profound, in my calling as a Pastor. In my years of ministry, I've felt those familiar pangs time and again without fully comprehending why.

The emotions are not always as intense as the grief experienced when you lose someone close, but they are nonetheless there. Grief is that emotion we feel whenever we experience a loss.

Dictionary definitions range anywhere from the loss of a loved one to death to a loss or misfortune that causes mental suffering or distress. The reasons are many but the effects are relatively the same. From loss of sleep, fatigue, anger, weight loss, to anxiety and headaches, the byproducts of grief are many.

As a Pastor, grief is rarely in the distance. It is ever looming in the background. Due to the nature of what we do, we are continually experiencing a loss over something. It's not just the death of a member that relives the pain for us, but many other types of losses that brings to the forefront that cycle of grieving all over again.

And that is part of the difficulty. Do we ever have time to fully recover and find our sense of balance? In my attempt to understand this process in my own context, I've listed some of the losses that happen in ministry that activates in me a sense of grief.

I grieve whenever we lose someone to death

I've been in my present ministry for almost ten years and in that time we've lost some amazing people. I've been surprised how much their loss affected me. Not because I'm new at this, but because of how much I had grown to love them. Each one held a unique place in my life and their contributions were immeasurable. Their spouses and children are continual reminders of what is missing.

I grieve whenever we lose someone from the church

You may think me shallow but it does hurt whenever someone walks away from the church. The reasons are many but some are more hurtful than others. Walking away from their faith in Christ is a wound I won't get over. Others create a sense of grief when they walk away for less admirable reasons, like a disagreement over polity or structure. Either way, a sense of loss is felt.

I grieve for the families who are suffering 

Sin is alive and well. Rarely a week goes by where I'm not reminded of this reality? As I write this I can think of countless families who are experiencing difficult times. Health problems, relationship problems, financial problems, the list is almost endless.

In many cases, these families are experiencing a new normal in their lives. All of which serves to remind me that we live in a broken world where the affects of sin are evident all around us.

I grieve whenever I think about the church in today's culture

It does grieve me that the church is seen as so irrelevant by many in our culture. If the church, as being the hands and feet of Jesus, is the hope of the world, then we should be disturbed by our impotence in stemming the tide of unbelief all around us. Do we really believe that Jesus is the Good News for the world?

I grieve at my own brokenness

There are times when I am confronted by my own weaknesses and insecurities. Ministry has a way of leaving you raw and exposed. Not only that, but there are moments where I can feel overwhelmed.  I know that its not in my own strength that ministry is done, but there are times when I can't bear the weight and burden of responsibility.  

I'm also painfully aware that my calling in life has done damage to my family, something that grieves me to this day, because it is a product of my own doing.

To be clear, though, it does not mean I lack a sense of victory, hope, or joy in ministry. Jesus has won the victory over death and sin, and though the effects of that victory can be experienced now we won't see its full consummation until Christ returns.

In the mean time we live in the present tension of an anticipated hope within a fallen reality. Maybe its because I am a Pastor that I see the scope of the world around me in dramatically different ways.  It's also the reason for staying the course; because even though I continue to grieve over the state of so many things around me, nothing assuages my grief more than the hope found in the Gospel.

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11 is of great comfort to me. Before Jesus commands Lazarus to walk out of the tomb he takes time to weep, to cry, to mourn with and identify with those around him.  In the midst of this great miracle, we are reminded of two worlds that continue to be at war to this day. One where sin and death are ever present and the other that is rooted in the Kingdom of God.

Regardless of the things that grieve me (I could have listed more but the blog is already too long), the life of a Pastor is very much typified by the story in John 11. We do stand in the vortex of two worlds that are constantly colliding with each other. That is why it is so important to stay connected to Jesus and to live by the power of the Spirit because we often find ourselves so intimately aware of the fallen world around us.

I would love to hear your thoughts, especially those of you who care for others, whether its in a ministry capacity or not, and the burden that you experience in your role.

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