When my dad died my mom asked me to be the minister for his funeral. But I felt like a son in grief, not a pastor.
I wanted to be a boy again and have my dad present in his prime to be strong for me.
I also wanted to love my mom, family, and friends and was honored to give my dad’s last message from his life, but how could I do that and still be a son who was grieving? How could I lead the memorial and graveside services for others while still being present to my feelings of sadness, my memories, my prayers?
Then I remembered my own teaching in my book on Jesus’ easy yoke, that the Lord could show me an easy way of doing hard things.
It became clear to me that even as I ministered to others I needed to focus first on my own grief process. Then I could serve others what I was cooking. That’s when ministry becomes grace and joy.
As I shared recently on this blog, I spent the week after my dad died reading his journal and his notes in his Bible. I reflected on my memories of him and how he blessed me and I prayed. (See “Your Feelings Can Strengthen Your Faith” and “Two Words to Help You Succeed.”)
But I had some stress reactions too. I was irritable and lost my temper. I judged myself harshly and shut down in depression.
Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! To get back into Jesus’ easy yoke I reached out to Kristi and friends. I absorbed God’s empathy for me through them and used it to talk down my self-criticism.
And I worked in our garden. Outwardly I was preparing our yard to host the memorial service, but inwardly I was bonding with my father. When I was a boy he taught me about plants, landscaping, and gardening, which led to my first job that helped build my college fund. Whenever he visited our home he told me how much he loved our backyard.
When I stood to welcome everyone to Dad’s memorial I felt we were in God’s garden of compassion (Isaiah 51:3). I felt the warmth of the Holy Spirit in my heart. I saw the Spirit’s light on people’s faces and afterward, people told me ways that Jesus touched them or spoke to them.
These were not just wishes — I was feeling the spiritual reality of being with Jesus in the Father’s world.
The Lord Jesus was leading this service so I was free to be a son in grief first and a pastor second. At times I was overcome with tears. At one point I got so lost in my emotions and memories that I stood up to give the message when I was supposed to be introducing the singer! I smiled, happy to be Jesus’ boy.
In every hard situation, Jesus has an easy way to do it. We can learn to be in his unforced rhythms of grace, walking and working with him, living and loving freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).
Listen to this week’s SoulTalk: Bill and Kristi sit down with pastors from Saddleback Church for a conversation on how to do hard things in an easy way. In the first of this three-part series, you’ll hear about the Biblical anchors of Jesus’ easy yoke, gain a picture of what his easy yoke looks like in everyday living, and dig deeper into how Jesus himself lived easily with the Father.