For nearly four decades, I’ve often been in the role of comforter—caring for those going through the death of a loved one. As a pastor, I’ve been with hundreds of families before, during or after saying goodbye to a family member. But I learned something from Barry a few weeks ago that will help me be a better pastor.
When my father died several weeks ago, hundreds of people expressed their condolences on Facebook, through emails, texts, phone calls and in person. Some sent cards in the mail. Every single one of those efforts of extending consolation and care were deeply appreciated by our family. But Barry’s care touched me the most.
Barry is a volunteer in our church office. For years, he has faithfully shown up twice a week to shred sensitive documents or insert offering envelopes in the weekly program handouts. He always has his coffee in hand, a cheery smile on his face and a warm hug for all our church staff.
After I returned to Florida from our family gatherings to celebrate my dad’s life, I was back in the office for the first in a couple weeks. Barry came into my office and told me he missed seeing me around. I told him my father had died so I had been in Oregon. Then the unexpected happened. Barry walked around the side of my desk, leaned over and hugged me. He said he was “so sorry to hear that news.” But then it got even better. Barry started praying for me. I couldn’t understand every word he prayed. In fact, I often have to ask him to repeat words to me so I can fully understand what he is saying. But I just listened this time. It was a heart-felt prayer to God on my behalf. Exactly what I needed. It made me cry. Still does.
The prayer-filled caring of my friend Barry, who has Down Syndrome, taught me to be a better pastor. No fancy prayer is needed. Just pray from the heart. And, a spoken prayer on the spot is better than a promise that you will be praying for them. No perfectly crafted words can bring greater comfort to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Simple words are enough. Even the mumbled words by Barry were understood because they were authentic and real. And, a hug from a friend is always powerful.
In the future, I will seek to be more like Barry when I’m in the role of comforter. I will never forget. Barry is the Best. Teacher. Ever.