lenten journal: don’t just do something


    The music director at our church, James, was in a car accident and severely injured last weekend. He has an old Cadillac that he was driving to see some friends in another state. Unknown to him, the car had some sort of carbon monoxide leak and he passed out at the wheel. The car crossed the median and dove into a cornfield, setting the corn and the car on fire. He was able, somehow, to get out of the car, get to the road, and flag down help that got him to a hospital. He did not have skin burns, but inhaled a great deal of soot and smoke that burned his lungs. Since Sunday he has been in the hospital in another city, intubated and heavily sedated while they daily go in and try to clean out his lungs. The news today is they have made good progress and the lungs are becoming clear and appear to be healing themselves. There are other questions still to be answered, but we are grateful for the hopeful words.

    But being far away, waiting for the next word sucks.

    The question bouncing around in my mind and also within our congregation is, “What should we do for him?” It’s an honest question with an answer that is hard to hear: right now all we can do is let him and his wife, Amanda, know we are with them. The feeling reminds me of advice I got from my Director when I began my Clinical Pastoral Education internship. “Sometimes,” he said, “you have to live be words from Alice in Wonderland: ‘Don’t just do something; stand there.’”

    I understand and I struggle with trusting a “ministry of presence” is enough.

    No, that’s not it. I know from experience that having someone who stays through tough times without doing anything other than not leaving is more than enough. It’s just damn hard work. And it doesn’t feel like enough.

    I need to do something tangible to make me feel like I’m helping. To make me feel not helpless. The hard reality I must face is doing something so I feel less helpless is not necessarily doing something that truly ministers to them. Our congregation has done a good job finding things that do help. The choir, for example, has come together to pay to board the couple’s pup while they are away. That’s good work. We have some family connections in the other city that have brought meals and support. But, as Ginger said in her email note to our congregation today, what we can best do is pray and support one another in “this difficult waiting room of life.”

    And so we wait. And pray. Together.

    Please join us.



    1. thanks for the alice in wonderland quote — always a nice reminder! you’re right — it’s never enough. but it matters. my cpe supervisor once asked me (somewhat indignantly): what makes you think your presence isn’t a prayer? made me understand tillich a bit better… not to mention pastoral care. thanks for your blogs– always meaningful…

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