This would happen on the day I got to preach the sermon I thought I’d preach weeks ago, the chapter that resonated with me deeply, the last verse that I’ve come to love. These were the words I had read and had studied that made me realize this didn’t have to be just one sermon; it could be a series.
And so that’s what it became. One sermon after another on several chapters of the book of Zechariah.
And today, the last day of the series, was supposed to be the day when I ended the sermon with fists pumping the air, at least figuratively. That’s my current “I’m so happy” posture. I don’t know that I’ve actually done it yet in any setting but I often go there in my mind, especially when reading the words:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” Zechariah 8:23 (emphasis mine)
You should read the book. I think you’ll get it.
But I didn’t end with fists pumping. I didn’t even end with a smile, at least not that I can recall. Which doesn’t make sense, right, because I was so excited to preach this. Instead, as we sang one of my favorite hymns, I started to cry.
Yeah…go ahead…insert the critiques:
This is why women shouldn’t be pastors.
Women are too emotional.
The list is enormous and, trust me, I tried to hold it in. I tried to “get myself under control.” But the more I sang, In the sweet by and by, the more I cried. And in that moment, I wished it was because I’d just announced that someone had died. At least then I’d have a “good excuse”.
I stopped singing. I breathed differently. Tried to convince my body to knock it off. Can’t you see where we are? Don’t you remember what I do for a living? Can you please stop?!
And then the song was over. Ordinarily, I would have asked my husband to play the chorus one more time. I actually sensed him waiting for me by not slowing down as much as he usually would at the end of a song, just in case.
I couldn’t repeat. Too many tears.
During that last chorus, I’d been tempted to walk off, ask our prayer ministry leader to close, and head to my office. I didn’t want to choke my way through the benediction. But the escape plan seemed melodramatic. So I stayed and I choked my way through a public admission that I’d had a tough phone call this morning. It wasn’t appropriate to detail the call, so I didn’t. I spoke to the fact that the person on the other line had been critical and how I had to come to terms with the fact that this is what happens when you’re trying to do the work of the Lord. And I meant that and mean it still. Some criticism is well place, makes total sense, should be fully owned. But this wasn’t that.
What I didn’t say to the congregation was that the criticism wasn’t against me. It was actually against the church which is somewhat personal because I’m the pastor but the person wasn’t attacking my person. And I actually think that had they attacked me I could have shaken off the tears or possibly wouldn’t have cried at all. I have had my fair share of personal attacks and I know which box to put them in. This was new, though. This was a “You people!” sort of anger. And the person wasn’t willing to hear me out.
Honestly, if I were in that person’s shoes, I’d be upset, too. Their anger made sense in their shoes. But it still stung. And I’m a feeler who didn’t have the time to breathe through the sting prior to preaching.
I’d been okay though, preaching sentence by sermon. I was sticking to my notes because something in me kept saying, “Stay focused!” I felt restricted, though, wishing I could shake the sting and be myself instead of trying to control myself into stoicism.
It made sense that the dam would break while singing because singing is, for me, so personal. And the work I do, the life I live, is so personal. This is my church, not an arrogant or controlling “my” but one that speaks to the commitment I’ve made to God and to a community of people. I’m one of the members. I’m one of the leaders. I’m one of the many who care about what happens next, lives impacted, dreams realized.
Perhaps some of my tears were the frustration of not being able to protect my church. Perhaps some of my tears were the frustration of not being heard. Perhaps some of my tears were the pain of hearing the hard work of my church get a solid thumbs down.
And yes, it’s just one person. And yes, there will be others. But thick skin is a bit of a lie and I’d rather be honest. Crying doesn’t mean I’ve chosen to wallow. I can still get a good night’s sleep and live another day. And I will.
I used to not cry. At funerals, yes, but that was kind of it. I’d want to cry. I’d watch that one movie with a group of girls in college. They’d all be weepy as the credits rolled and I’d be sitting in the dark thinking, “Come on tears! You can do it!” If I welled up, it was short lived. No wet cheeks.
Life has taught me to cry. Life has taught me that if I don’t cry, I’ll be miserable. Since learning to let myself feel, I can now cry at a Mother’s Day commercial. But I’ve been socialized to not let my tears be public. So, today’s tears were hard to shed and they would have it no other way.