I have been exposed to trauma my entire life.
It wasn’t that the trauma always happened to me, but it was in and out of my house a lot. Like a revolving door, the faces of broken people would walk through our front door and sit down on our couch and weep into the long hours of the night. Sometimes they would yell. Sometimes they would sit in silent prayer. Often times they would collapse.
Into the arms of my father. Most times with my mother right beside him.
My dad was a pastor for nearly 30 years. And it was in those 30 years, and even now in his current ministry position, that his heart is to bring hope to the hopeless and comfort for those who are unraveled. So very many of my childhood memories involved the front door creaking open late at night and broken people coming to my dad for wisdom and Biblical counsel. In addition to his full time pastoral job, for eight years he also served as the police chaplain in our city. And night after night, he would be called to scenes of crimes and accidents to, once again, be the bearer of hope and comfort to those who had been blindsided by life.
I am quite sure my dad has seen just about all of it.
My father has sat on our couch and in churches and in funeral homes and on curbsides and in jails. He held the hands of widows as their young husbands took their last breaths. He held couples as their children passed into the arms of Jesus before they ever got to take a breath. He went to accident sites where body parts were covering the streets and into homes where children had been killed. He poured into couples who sat on the brink of divorce and wrestled through their deepest pains with them. He negotiated gunman with hostages and held hostage’s family members while they waited in agony for their loved ones to be released. He talked through questions of faith from “How do you know God exists?” to “Why would God let my husband kill himself?” and everything else in between.
He has selflessly walked through the valley of the shadow of death with friends and strangers alike and he has stared brokenness in the face more than one hundred people combined have in his lifetime. And after walking down into all of those valleys and through all of those shadows, he would come home to have very few who checked on him. And at the end of his ministry when he needed to be poured into the most, there were even fewer at his side.
Many times, he was not recognized for his work or seen for the emotion he put into his job… into his God-given calling.
For thirty years, my father was the embodiment of love and he modeled a life of serving others. It was the clearest calling that he had in his life – to be a fisher of men, and a giver of hope. And while no pastor goes into ministry with the intention of being praised or recognized, the church has often forgotten that they are still human.
That they still bleed. That they still have burdens. That they still have their own valleys and their own shadows.
They have forgotten that no one, not even the pastor, is immune to pain, and a need for hope to be extended to them. When tragedy strikes and no one knows who to call for help, usually the first suggestion is, "Do you have a pastor you can call?" No one ever thinks about who the pastor can call when it's them in the midst of crisis.
There was yet another young pastor who lost his life to suicide this week after struggling with depression and anxiety. I am so broken over it. Church, if this is not a wake-up call to invest in our pastors and their families, I don’t know what is. Things like this don’t just happen overnight. Mental illness is a real thing among Christian leaders and the weight of trauma in ministry is even more real.
Church, if not us then who?
October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Friends, we shouldn’t have to need a month that tells us to check in on the shepherd of our flocks. We shouldn’t be confined to just one month to pray for the leaders of our churches. Can you please not sit on this a day longer? Reach out to your pastor. Pray for your pastor. The weight that’s on their heart is so much more than just Sunday mornings behind the pulpit. Come back to your pastor years after they met you in your brokenness and remind them that they aren’t alone in theirs, either.
So who do you need to call today? Check on your strong pastor friend. Your phone call just might be the one they need.