If we could always spot our mistakes in advance, surely we would avoid them but for some reason we don’t see them in time.
I was asked to speak at another congregation, and one part touched on marriage counselling. After reviewing some examples of hurtful and mean things said between spouses, I told the group,
“If this is an example of what life has been like, of course you want a new marriage. You need a new marriage. But you can have that new marriage with each other. You can learn a new way to live together in kindness.”
But I was stirring up the drama with my vocal inflections, and only got to the line “of course you want a new marriage” when someone in the audience broke out in laughter.
Someone thought I was being entertaining. I only meant to create a sense of intensity while making a point. But when I could finish my train of thought, something of the impetus had been lost. I was not talking about the need to divorce but the need to live a new way in marriage.
And when I got thrown off track I had a brain glitch, forgetting what I wanted to counterbalance the negative examples with from my own admission of human flaws and hard attitudes.
I had meant to say,
“This is an understandable problem because of human nature. You who have struggled with patience have done well. I would have been less patient than you. You who have struggled with an unforgiving heart have lasted longer than I would have lasted. My own patience is thin, my own generosity is not as great as yours. I am not married, but I probably would have failed the test even sooner than you.”
Because I lost my focus with that audible reaction, the opportunity to communicate the full message was lost.
Being a Christian does not immediately remove all struggles with a spouse, especially when we are challenged or disrespected, or made to feel uncared for and taken for granted.
The preacher is not better at this than anyone else, and saying so might have helped one or two people receive the rest of the message.
Another failure regarded a funeral. Other families had appreciated hearing about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the foundation for our hope in God’s forgiveness and promise of eternal life.
So at the funeral for an older person, I preached on these highlights and spoke as if no one had ever heard it before, which was problematic in and of itself, but there was a bigger mistake.
What had I forgotten?
I had forgotten that some people who have cared for a loved one in chronic pain are so fatigued and so troubled by their loved one’s constant pain and misery, that they don’t want to be cheered up or made to think in a joyous direction at the funeral service.
They are relieved that the suffering is over but needs the weight of that suffering acknowledged. Not only in words but also in tone.
There can be anger and pain in watching a loved one suffer, and a sense of personal helplessness when the physicians can do nothing for it. God can seem very far away in the days leading up to death, and some do not welcome those who bring God to their attention too quickly or in a manner that seems too glib. That which is said too easily or too forcefully can seem uncaring.
Sometimes I get the balance wrong in tone as well as in words. What am I trying to say? We preach with our spirit as well as our words. And that applies to how we appear to others at the grocery store or Little League ball game.
We communicate with our whole being, and sometimes we do not say something well. So like everyone else, the preacher must ask both for forgiveness and for new opportunities to try again.
Written by Rev. Mark Koonz, a pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Walla Walla. His interests include walking in the country, painting landscapes, getting together with friends (even for canoeing or horse riding), travel, and reading. His own writings have been published in journals Edification: Journal of the Society for Christian Psychology, Theology in Scotland, The Princeton Theological Review, and CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society. Email him at EmmanuelOffice@wwelc.org.
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