- A man has an argument with his gardener over work performance, resulting in the gardener's dismissal. In response, the now ex-gardener returns to the house a couple of days later, breaks in, and bludgeons the man to death with a 4-pound hammer. He also brutally rapes the man's wife, who is currently in a critical condition in hospital.
- A good friend of mine, the primary breadwinner in her family supporting a 3 year-old daughter and a husband who is pastor of a small congregation (and receiving a similarly small stipend), celebrated being promoted by the large bank for whom she worked. I say "worked", because not four weeks after the promotion, the "powers that be" called her in to inform her that the marketing function would be "restructured" resulting in the position to which she was recently promoted, becoming redundant. Although she is highly skilled in her field, she is also six months pregnant with her second child - you can just imagine how keen recruiters are when they hear THAT news!
- A family member is buckling under the pressure of the accumulation of interest rate hikes, and faces the prospect of losing the one and only home he has ever owned. Any pleas to discuss the matter with a decision-maker at his bank have thus far fallen upon deaf ears.
What do these three incidents have in common? Apart from the stress and pain they have caused in the lives of the people concerned, they have also left me feeling absolutely useless, with nothing tangible to offer them in the way of comfort or relief.
At the risk of sounding flippant, I feel like Michael J. Fox's character in "The Secret Of My Success". In the one scene where Fox, as the mail-room clerk, is pressed into service as a driver for one of the executives' wives, he notices that she is rather stressed and enquires whether there is any way in which he can help in her situation. She responds with her list of problems, including the breakdown of her car, the sudden resignation of her maid, the splitting of a nail, and the conviction that her husband is having an affair with a work colleague. Once she has rattled off her list of problems, she challenges Fox by asking him what he had in mind, to which he feebly responds: "A stick of gum?"
As a future minister faced with situations such as those described above, I feel as though what I have to offer is about as useless as that stick of gum. Now this is not to say that I don't have faith that God will provide comfort in these situations. It's just that sometimes I wish that I had the power to bring back the murdered man, "unrape" his wife, restore my friend's job, and bring my family member's bond up to date. The fact that I can't do these things is so frustrating, and the fact that I am not expected to be able to put these things right doesn't make it feel any better.
Yet there are also times where I feel that I am actually making a difference. Take today, for instance - one of the Society Stewards contacted me with a request to visit an elderly member of the congregation, who had just lost her husband of nearly 50 years. What does one say to a person in this situation?
In fact, I felt like a typical government drone as I guided the family through the completion of the forms we use to facilitate the services, funeral arrangements, etc. I mean - here's a woman who has just lost her life's soulmate, and I come along like a clerk filling in paperwork.
Other than that, there wasn't actually much that I could do. Obviously I prayed with the family. They then offered me a cup of tea, and the widow then started talking to me about how she and her late husband were among the founder members of St Andrews Methodist Church, which started in a garage, then moved to a school, and finally to the wonderful building we have today. And as she spoke, it dawned on me that by just sitting there with the family as she spoke, I was giving them the opportunity to start the healing process as they remembered the good times.
When it came time for me to leave, the family thanked me most profusely for spending time with them. I'm not sure exactly what I did (besides the paperwork) - my counselling textbooks don't exactly subscribe to the "sit down, drink tea, shut up" method of counselling, and to be honest, I'm still not entirely sure what one is supposed to do in such situations.
But I know that God's presence was in that house this afternoon. Whether this was because of my visit, or (more likely) in spite of my visit, I know that this family's healing process has begun thanks to the grace of God.
Yet my heart still wishes that there was something more I could actually do in situations like these, even though my mind tells me that I actually have little tangible to offer. Perhaps this is an area of my life (and my ministry) where my faith still needs to grow? What do the "voices of experience" out there in the blogosphere suggest?