Familiar Strangers

As I write, a pastor I’ve known for probably fifteen years is still missing. All indications at this point are that he’s taken his own life. I’ve known his father and mother, grandparents and cousins … but I didn’t know him. The energetic, enthusiastic, gregarious, confident person I saw really was him, but it wasn’t always him … it wasn’t all of him.
None of us is up all the time. We all experience mood swings. Thankfully most of us have been blessed with bodies that can regulate, compensate and adjust. Others experience euphoric highs and crushing lows. I don’t understand bipolar disorder, but I know that people who love Jesus suffer from it … and I know those same people are dearly loved by him.
Would it have made a difference if the suffering pastor was as acceptable as the energetic go-getter? I hope so … and I believe it’s a place where God’s people need to grow. The pressure to always have the answers and be “up” is withering in ministry. I think that’s true for Christians in general.
We, of all people, should be open to those who suffer. Otherwise, we’re not much like our Father who is … “Close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18. Neither are we much like our Savior if we neglect to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2. Again we’re told, “Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
At any moment I might be talking to a person who is discouraged to the point of death. I’m not saying that realization will give me special insight, but it’s a push towards loving unrestrainedly. It’s a reminder to be in the moment and not so hurried. It’s reason enough to practice Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Maybe we can’t totally be the solution … but we can cease from being part of the problem.