What happens when a pastor ends up being on the receiving end of care? Well, a lot of reflection and a lot of projection and a lot of rejection. Here are some lines that I have found somewhat surprising, sometimes embarrassing as I recall my own miscues and sometimes down right aggravating.
1. I'm sorry to hear about that. I know what it means, but it gets said so much, and it is technically NOT what is meant.
2. I'll be praying for you. Why not just pray for me? Now. In the moment. Sometimes I think the person will pray and other times I am doubtful. I'm really okay with phone prayers....I do them a lot! One has to be careful when driving to not close eyes while praying!
3. Let me know if you need anything. The great pastoral deflection. It puts the onus on the person potentially needing care. Some have said that we pastors don't know how to accept care from others. I honestly don't think that is true for me, but people in need don't always know what they need and there is so much going on that it would be awesome if people would just say I can do "x" "y" or "z" and then the care receiver can choose. It is also important for people to realize that sometimes prayer is all and the most that can be done.
4. Ignore the fact all together. This is a biggie. I was just speaking with a colleague who mentioned a friend that never called him, never wrote, never checked in when he was going through a horrible family crisis. Later on the friend's wife said he didn't call because he didn't know what to say. That is okay. Simply offering your presence, voice on the phone or card and the words "I don't know what to say," is really enough. In fact, it may be the best thing possible.
5. You are going to feel this or that. When I had this happen blah blah blah. You'll be just fine. All may be true, but in advance, not all that helpful.
The first duty of love is to listen.
One of the most valuable things we can do to heal one another is listen to each other's stories.