Back when I trained as a hospice chaplain, I was often surprised at how much our team–doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains–laughed together.
It wasn’t that we didn’t cry, too. We cried a lot. We cried plenty. Watching people die, supporting them at the end of life, ministering to their families and friends, it made each of us ache.
I often couldn’t have a normal night at home with Daryl until I had journaled or prayed or processed the stories of the families I’d seen that day.
The work was sad and heavy.
To cope I ate a lot of comfort food and watched a lot of Wipeout.
And our care team laughed a lot. Not at patients or their families, of course, but at the absurdity of the situations we found ourselves in. The nonsensical nature of the human body at times. The way people were utterly themselves even at the point of death.
Mr. G’s ridiculous dog. Ms. L’s hilarious stories. That Mrs. H had lost and replaced another hearing aid, two days after her children replaced it, and four days after they replaced the first one, and then found all three under her pillow.
The patient who demanded iced tea on her death bed, but NOT SNAPPLE. (“What’d you do?” I asked her chaplain. “Duh – we got her some iced tea!” the chaplain exclaimed.) The nurse who accidentally left her cell phone at a patient’s house only to discover the dying patient beat her high score in Scrabble.
We laughed and cried and cried and laughed, and together made it through the ups and downs of end of life care, with all its weight and grief and struggle and holiness. It was a paradox, how things could be so heartbreaking and so beautiful, and often at the same exact moment.
The Gospel is like that.
From 2 Corinthians 6, in The Message:
People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.
What a beautiful picture of what it is to follow Jesus. Up and down, easy and difficult, blessing and struggle. It is both-and, never either-or.
I’ve been in full-time ministry for six years now, and part-time ministry since I was in college.
You guys, ministry is hard. It’s exhausting. The hours are weird and its challenges are new (and often unexpected) every season. Working hard. Working late.
Following Jesus is hard. It can be exhausting. There is no time off, and the challenges are new (and often unexpected) every season. Working hard. Working late. Failing at the whole holiness thing. Trying again. Learning grace anew.
Yet in Jesus, we have it all. We are terrifically alive, recognized by God, always filled with deep joy.
We have nothing, but really, we have it all.
Not fancy cars or big houses or giant diamond rings, but the Lord of the universe, sent for us, given for us, raised for us.
It is the having nothing, the immersion in tears, the difficulty, the struggle, the loneliness, the ache that drives us more deeply into the arms of this Savior.
Because of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, our suffering is not in vain, our struggle is not ours alone, our pain does not go unnoticed.
Because of Jesus, we have everything.
It’s a topsy-turvy sort of faith. We aren’t promised riches or ease or simplicity or that everything will be all good in this life. But we are promised more of Jesus.
The longer I’m in ministry, the more I know this is true.
There are days when my tank is running on empty, but in many ways those days are the sweetest of all.
How are you facing nothing in your life this season?
How do you have it all?