Pastor’s Blog: Which Season Is It?

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV)

It’s hot enough in Texas that it makes you certain you don’t want to go anyplace hotter. That’s what one preacher wrote about while pondering day after day of temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My brother-in-law was baling hay (large round bales) in bottom land where the temperature was 110 and the heat index 120. I asked if he was hydrating. A one-time Vietnam medic during the Tet offensive and after a career as a physician’s assistant in a VA medical center and as an Army reserve officer, my brother-in-law knows all about the effects of heat on the body. He said he’s drinking water, G2, and it all sweats right out. No need for potty breaks.

There’s certainly a season for everything, and people who farm and ranch like my favorite sister and brother-in-law know all about that, because it affects their livelihood and their comfort levels on a daily basis. If you think it’s amazing that “retirees” in their 70s are farming and ranching 700 acres, you should see my brother-in-law’s mama in her 90s. She survived an almost never survivable tumor.

There’s a season for everything that may or may not be linked to the weather, and it’s quite possible for an entire church or an extended family to be in a wide variety of seasons at the same time. We preachers know about that, because there are more generations above ground than at any other time in history. The people in the pew and those that aren’t have entirely different cultural histories. If you ever watch Jeopardy, you can catch just a glimpse of that from category to category and from night to night. I am astounded by how often the most basic biblical stories or expressions cannot be answered and amazed at how little I know about who sang which song last year and who stars in which TV show. Some nights I think, “I could have won big.” Other nights not so much.

We share in common as human beings the same seasons: birth, death, joy, sorrow, love, hate, peace, war, health, sickness, et cetera. When I was a 27-year-old newly ordained trauma chaplain at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, I became well acquainted with how families dealt with pain and death. It was different from family to family and often within the same family. My first death on Friday night of Labor Day weekend was a good kid from a churched family. He was killed when he told two guys outside a 7-11 convenience store he had just spent his last dollar on milk. They shot and ended his life on the spot. Mom and Dad were disbelieving and catatonic in the family room. Twin sister was hyperventilating up against a wall. Another sister ran screaming from the room while nurses said: “Keep them all in the family room, chaplain.” That was the first of many inexplicable deaths that year. I went home angry almost every night. I kept a large jug of Gallo wine in the apartment refrigerator and drank too many glasses when I knew I didn’t have to go anywhere.

There’s a season for everything, and how we handle the hard seasons can be a time for tremendous growth and change. It also can begin a downward spiral into the abyss. Never grieve alone. Watch your alcohol or prescription drug intake, or you may arrive at your death much sooner than expected…or make everyone else who knows you wish you had.

Young folks, adolescents and just older, can be very book smart, as they say, but not life smart. Because they haven’t lived through enough of the hard seasons, they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s not the same thing to read about it in a book or even to learn about it in a class or see it in a movie or hear about it in a song. Things came easily to me when I was younger, too. I didn’t think I could survive the loss of my first dog at 15, or betrayals in love as a teenager and much older, or the death of my father when I was 21, or the dark underbelly of congregational and denominational politics (yes, the reason they are so nasty is the stakes are so small in the great scheme of things).

There is a season for everything. You can count it all joy, as James says, but it still hurts like hell at the time. How do you survive it all? In a church family, which may be a lot saner or more loving than some of your relatives! You laugh together and cry together. You fight together and forgive each other (or you don’t, sad to say). Just because you’re feeling “urinarily expressive” doesn’t mean everybody is in the same season. They can’t read your mind. Grown ups have to ask for what they need, and there is always someone there, a pastor or a Stephen Minister or a sister or brother in Christ, who will walk with you in the lonely moments of that season. Don’t isolate. Don’t crawl into a bottle of alcohol or pills.

Show up at the Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Mass) whether you feel like it or not. Confess your sins whether you feel like it or not. Read the psalms whether you feel like it or not, because they will teach you how to pray your way through the hard seasons. You’re not the first person to go through what you’re going through, and you’re not the last. If you have doubts, you’re angry with God, you feel empty, you feel lower than worm poo on the bottom of the ocean, just show up. Chances are you aren’t the only person in that season at the same time, and you may even be surprised that receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar changes how you deal with the season you are in – the season that won’t last forever.

Many years ago, Frederick Buechner wrote that the Christian story is a comedy. Indeed! Because Christ is risen from the dead, so shall we in bodies that will never suffer again and never die again. Christ will make all things new. That’s a lot better story to cling to than some dark brooding downward spiral into the abyss. I will choose a happy ending over all those other self-flagellating, self-hating tales of woe they call art today. No to nihilism. No to nothingness. It presumes there is only death and despair. Bull feces, ya’ll!

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

szumwalt

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.