“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Confirmation this morning that this is in fact the correct thing to say whenever anyone tells me they are going into ministry.
Come to think of it, I typically say the same thing when a couple comes to me with the blissful news they are getting married and want me to perform the ceremony for them.
I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.
My tongue is only slightly in cheek in such moments.
They laugh. I laugh.
No, I really am sorry.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s impossible to imagine life without my marriage of three decades plus – life would be so incredibly boring without her. She’s even managed to get me onto the dance floor – a lot, like I mean, a lot, over the past year. My daily life is no mere existence but rather adventure because of walking (dancing!) this through with her rather than merely sitting alone with a book (as enticing as that sounds on most days).
The same can be said for ministry, which actually covers the same span in my life.
What an exquisite mixture of pain and delight.
If we had any sense of the depths of what we are about to imbibe as we stand upon the precipice of ministry – or marriage, or having kids!, for that matter – “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry” would be the only appropriate response.
Starting into Jeremiah this morning with my Hebrew snippet for the day, I’m stunned at his insight upon the occasion of God’s call upon him.
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee. And before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.”
Okay, God doesn’t really talk like this, but, he really should. I’m just saying.
And Jeremiah’s response?
An enthusiastic Isaianic “Here am I send me”?
Not so much.
Jeremiah was that rare treasure: he was a youth who felt that youth and inexperience and was humbled by it rather than emboldened with foolish bravado (o ye unnatural youth!). What wisdom in his answer:
That’s the transliterated Hebrew response that screams from the core of his soul.
“Ah, alas,” says the lexicon. “Apparently a primitive word expressing pain exclamatorily.”
You’ve gotta love the antiseptic explanation of a dictionary entry.
Thank you, Spock.
This interjection of grief and sorrow occurs fifteen times in the Hebrew Scriptures. “Aha!” for us is an exclamation of discovery, of epiphany.
For them if it was discovery, it was one of horror.
It’s the exclamation made from Jephthah’s father’s heart when it’s his daughter that walks out that door.
It’s the horrified cry of a poor man who’s borrowed axehead just flew into the river (roughly the equivalent of driving your friend’s borrowed car into the lake). It’s the guttural distress call from Elisha’s servant who wakes up to a city surrounded by Syrians bent on slaughter. It’s a community’s cry upon the death of thirty six of their fathers, their sons, their brothers, fallen in combat.
I am so sorry for your loss.
And joining these voices is the guttural lament of Jeremiah
at the prospect of God’s call.
This is too much for me.
I can’t do this.
I am but a child.
I don’t even know how to speak.
I don’t have the words, the eloquence, the diction – and I suck at public speaking.
And if we are wise, our voices join the same chorus as we contemplate whatever call is upon us.
The call to ministry, to marriage, to parenthood, to career, to life.
Hopefully we are properly horrified.
For the most sublime delights are only to be found in the deepest pains – and we can’t handle either.