I was surprised last week at the push back that I received when I reposted “An Open Letter (from a non-mother) to Pastors” on a FACEBOOK page dedicated to those serving in vocational ministry. The letter is a plea for Pastors to be sensitive to the pain that some women can experience related to the celebration of Mother’s Day. This woman was taken to be a self-centered, malcontent who was envious of the attention and praise that was being given to other women. Comments were made that being sensitive to those who find Mother’s Day a painful day would be tantamount to failing to observe the Lord’s Supper or baptism, or preaching about sin. Others expressed that these women “need to grow up and get over themselves.” One comment even suggested that women like that “need to meet Jesus.”
What surprised me so much wasn’t comments that were made. I was not even surprised that the comments came from Christians. Let’s face it – some professed Christians can be the most heartless and blood-thirsty people out there. Non-Christians will vouch for that, but also many Christians who have fallen victim to the sharp claws and vicious bite of other believers.
What surprised me was that these comments were made people who are or have served as the senior staff in churches, those who Christians see as lead shepherds of the flock.
It was interesting that this non-mother, and any woman that she might speak for, was branded one of those people looking to be “offended” (a term she never used in the letter). Any possibility that the existence of real pain existed was summarily dismissed.
I’m wondering if we’re looking at a blind spot.
Now, I am well aware that we are living in an era when many people are seeking to be offended … that some people are more than willing to be put off by nearly anything that somebody can say. Living in the location I do, I am especially aware of the likelihood of someone being offended by what could largely be construed as an innocuous statement that is misunderstood due to the assortment of cultural lenses through which it must pass in order to be received.
I am, also, well aware that the “offended” can be found within any church. They can be a minister’s worst nightmare, especially when they are given the ear of some of the Elders within the church. Single-handedly these “offended” can hijack, and even halt, ministry progress. I have even had one of those “offended” serving as an Elder.
But the more I thought it through I had to wonder, “Is this more about a blind spot?”
A blind spot is the spot of vision in our cars which you are not able to see without additional effort when you are driving. When not noticed, you hit the car coming up beside you when you change lanes. Or worse, you could hit the person walking through the parking lot as you back up.
People with limited peripheral vision are plagued with dealing with the problem of blind spots.
But blind spots can also be a mental phenomenon. It is that thought that never dawns on you. It is the need that you never perceive.
Just like when I have begun to pull over into the next lane to be greeted with the honk from the driver who is feeling threatened by my maneuver, I have also found occasions when I have encountered blind spots in ministry. Those places where I didn’t adequately percieve all of the dynamics that were playing on what I did observe.
So, again, I wonder if I stumbled into a blind spot.
Jesus when talking to that Samaritan woman, made the disciples raise an eyebrow. They didn’t get why Jesus was talking with her.
Jesus spoke of blind spots when he said, “They say three more months until the harvest. But look, I tell you, the fields are white unto harvest.” I bet the disciples looked at Jesus, turned to the fields, and back at Jesus, with puzzled looks on their faces, and thought, “It is a good thing Jesus isn’t a farmer.” You think they have a blind spot?
Peter had a dream of spare ribs and pork chops, calamari and jumbo shrimp, and said, “Nah. Do you still serve from the kosher menu?” Three times God prepared Peter by sending that dream before He finally spoke up, and said, “Nothing I have made is unclean.” Blind spot?
But did he get it? Later on, when he was at Cornelius’ house, he finished his message, and was at a loss on how to close it out. Usually, he would have extended an invitation, but Cornelius was a Gentile. Blind spot! God had to reverse the normal order of conversion (baptism then Holy Spirit) to give Peter a sign that it was alright for a Gentile to be converted.
I wonder if “needs, hurts, and pain” could be a blind spot for many ministry professionals. Because so many people are inclined to be offended, are we too inclined to relegate the pain that people may experience to a trash heap of offense? Could we as ministry professionals become so calloused that we mistake a cry for a complaint? Do we get so busy getting our job done that we forget that the people are the job? Do we get involved with doing things a certain way, and responding to certain issues and needs that we fail to see and respond to the hurting before our eyes?
Does that blind spot get manifested by a promise to pray when someone asks for a moment to share the crisis they are experiencing, rather than taking the time to pray with them right then and there?
Are we more prone to passing someone in need to shuffle off to a meeting than passing on a meeting to shuffle off to meeting a person’s need? Or worse yet, do we even notice? I sure hope that we care.
When it came to Mother’s Day, I had to think through the assortment of women with the vast diversity of their experiences that I have come to rub shoulders with in ministry, and view the day through the lenses of their life experiences.
I thought of the couple of women who early in life had abortions, one of which resulted in sterilization, still battling the guilt of their decisions.
My heart broke again for the family who were unsuccessful in attempting to bear children, and after adopting a child from foster care had the child die in her sleep, and another foster child removed as the parents struggled with depression and grief.
I wondered at the grace of the ladies who chose to value the life of their child that was conceived in violence over the option of ending that life as a painful reminder.
I thought of the several adults that as children were abused by their mother, through physical and emotional abuse, or just plain neglect.
I spent a moment thinking about the faithful unmarried, those who desired to get married and have children, but never had their lives unfold that way.
I paused a moment to think of the blended families where the step parent has generously poured themselves into the lives of their non-biological children, only to be reminded that they weren’t their parent.
I shed a tear for the mother who would be celebrating the day on the third anniversary of the death of her first born.
I grieved for the family that shared during the previous week that their mother had been diagnosed with cancer.
Taking the time to turn my head, in order to get a good vision of that blind spot, helped me to grow in compassion for the flock to which God gave me charge.
I have not always been so good at checking my blind spots. Not taking the time to adjust my vision, I have missed numerous opportunities for ministry. I have caused more than a few accidents by not looking good enough at the traffic around me to get a good look at what is going on in the life of the other drivers on the fast lane of ministry. I am not aware that I have ever forced someone off the road by carelessly cutting them off. But more than once, somebody has had to “lay on the horn” in order to beep me back into observation (and just in case you missed it — I’m not really talking about driving).
But may I never grow blind to the real pain that other experience.
— Pastor Steve