Recently I heard a sermon on this passage from 2 Corinthians:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
I like that command/promise value pack. God comforts us. He has, he does, he will. He expects us to care about other people who are hurting because we know how they feel and have experienced God's care for us. My understanding of the words "compassion" and "sympathy" is that they involve shared experience. I have compassion for someone who feels lonely, hopeless, or rejected because I have felt those things, too.
I assumed mature Christians would behave this way toward others.
When the conflict with sr pastor outgrew his relationship with Husband and began to involve our parenting decisions, I decided I should talk directly with sr pastor. I was hurt deeply. I felt like he had judged us and felt insecure about being at church.
I carefully, thoughtfully worked out what I wanted to say to him and how to say it in an relationship-building way. I decided to approach him as my pastor, asking for his help finding my place at the church. My imagined worst-case-scenario was that I'd cry and lose control of myself. I tried to remember that authentic tears generate sympathy and connection and that would certainly be good.
Things started out well. I described my frustrations and asked for his help. He offered brief, practiced answers that I suspect he has given often to similar requests. Then I thought aloud, "The last year has not gone the way I'd expected..." and started to cry. It was a profound understatement of how difficult things had been for my family.
This is the moment when I'd have expected 1 Corinthians to kick in. As a pastor -- in theory, my pastor -- I thought he would comfort me with the comfort he had received through Christ.
Instead he picked up the thought and turned it to himself. "Things haven't gone the way I'd expected either! When your husband came I thought..." and he began listing his frustrations with my husband.
I was speechless. What a crazy mess. This pattern repeated over and over in interactions we had with sr pastor. It is so painful, feels so unkind. It also makes me hurt for him because he seems unable to see beyond himself.
This post was inspired by a recent item from the Church Whisperer. "We are surrounded by pain and sorrow and dysfunction and incapacitation. Without something to offer in opposition to that pain, without a heart that breaks for hurting people, our mission fails."