Monday, January 04, 2010

Heart-breaking Prayers

How, as as a pastor, do I pray when my heart's breaking just as much as my congregation's? It's a question I've yet to figure out, and one brought to light during the pastoral prayer yesterday.

Over the last month or so, we've been lifting up two five-year-old girls in our prayers; one with cancer, one with a serious blood disorder. Neither are part of our church, but a member is a friend of relatives of the girls (the girls aren't related).

Sunday, during the joys and concerns, we had to break the news that one of the little girls, Anna, had passed away Friday night. The heartache of the congregation was palpable. None of them knew her, but of course it's difficult to hear about any child dying, especially one so young and so prayed for.

After a brief period of silence, I had to offer the pastoral prayer. I began with the prayers of thanksgiving for the many blessings--cancer in remission, people home from the hospital. Then I moved to needs--a woman fighting cancer who'd been moved to hospice, a friend having surgery. Then I moved to the girls. I prayed for Molly, the one still fighting, and her family.

And then I paused. The tears were right at the back of my throat. I didn't know this girl, didn't react when I'd read the e-mail message about her passing with more than a "that sucks" thought, wasn't bothered when my senior pastor and I discussed it before the service.

But when I offer that pastoral prayer from that lectern, I don't just speak words. I actually pray. I have nothing written except the list of specific needs just lifted up by the congregation, so I open myself up to the movement of the Spirit. I open my heart. And at that moment, my heart was breaking for that child's family. At that moment, all I could think of was a mother's grief, a father's anguish, a sibling's confusion.

I couldn't speak. I took a deep breath, willing myself not to cry, to make a spectacle. When I managed words, they were brief, asking comfort for Anna's family as they grieved. I could say no more.

I wondered, afterwards, if I should've let myself cry, let my tears fall onto the big Bible underneath my hands, let the congregation see just how much this little girl's death touched me. I'm sure many of them heard me choking up anyway. Or maybe I did the right thing, distancing myself, staying professional, letting the deepest grief pulsate through the pauses, the silence, rather than try and speak inadequate words. I don't know.

It seems like such a simple thing, but really it's complicated by so much. I'm young and unexperienced. I'm a woman. Me crying during prayers would probably be received differently than if it were the older, experienced, male senior pastor.

Sigh. This ministry thing is complicated in the most surprising ways, sometimes.

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