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July 25, 2011

Writing Letters to the Suffering

The following moved me deeply. We asked permission to post it. It speaks for itself. My thanks to John Knight, John Piper and Desiring God.

Pastors, Help Your People: The Ministry of a Letter in Suffering
by John Knight

Hand writingPastors, Here's a Scenario

You're a pastor and ‘the call’ comes. One of your families have welcomed a child into the world – and that child is significantly disabled. They are crushed.

What do you do?

You haven’t experienced this thing in your family and maybe you don’t even know this family well (or at all).

More than 15 years ago, Pastor John wrote a note to my family. With our permission, he turned that into an article for the church, Words of Hope for a Baby Born Blind. I recommend the ministry of writing a letter to anyone in that situation, but I recommend it particularly for pastors.

Here are some reasons:

  • It came right away. For routine births, the emails and tweets and cards and flowers and balloons come right away. We experienced silence for three days, and then people figured out maybe they should celebrate the birth of a child. That letter came during the silence.
  • It was personal. Pastor John references how heavy this is for him. When he closed with “I love you” I believed him.
  • It spoke directly into pain. There was nothing light or trite about how this was written.
  • My dad was the first to communicate Paul is a gift. Pastor John was the second, and I had it in writing.
  • It was full of Bible.
  • It was communal; we were not alone: “This is a gift and call to the whole church.”

There are phrases in here, almost 16 years later, that we cherish:

  • "when the mountains have fallen into the sea. . ."
  • "God is at work in ways and for years and generations and millions of people that we cannot now imagine."
  • "Some are asked to devote forty or fifty years to caring for a handicapped child instead of breezing through life without pain. Others are asked to be blind all their lives. . ."

Advice for Pastors in These Situations

We welcomed that note when it came — we desperately wanted our leaders to respond to this shocking, devastating event in our lives.

But do not be overly impressed if your note is initially received with gratitude. Two months after we received Pastor John’s letter, I would reject everything in it.

And do not be overly discouraged if it is torn to pieces and thrown into your face. I’ve done things like that as well. And today I see Jesus as beautiful and purposeful.

Set any thoughts of success or fear aside. See the pain, look to Jesus, and pick up your pen or keyboard and begin, "Dear . . . "

If you can, get up from your desk and go to the bedside of that new baby with your note in hand.

Then pray with all your heart that God would grant those new parents eyes to see his glory. And pray for your church to understand God has given you a gift who could permanently change how you understand his sovereignty over all things.

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