Now let’s pause for a moment, and consider something often misunderstood. To minister is not synonymous to being a pastor. There’s overlap—a pastor serves to minister to others—but the work of ministering is not exclusive to the ordained individual. Rather, ministering is a task not reserved to a single vocation but instead a vocation in and of itself for which we are all called to respond and participate in through our various daily doings. Ministering is as capable in the farmer as it is in the corporate businessperson. It is as necessary for the student as it is for the retired widower. It is as expected of the infrequent worship attendant as it is of the overactive participant. To minister is a mark of one’s baptismal identity. Each of us, through our baptism, are called to be ministers in the world—ministers for one another. The call to minister applies to all people, in all walks of life. And when we listen and respond to this persistent call to step out beyond the threshold of our comfort and self-satisfaction—ministering to those around us—we eventually (and inevitably) come to feel the heaviness of heart that comes with it. Heavy is the heart who ministers.
Anyone who says ministering is easy, a piece of cake, either isn’t engaging with others below a surface-level or is painting only—at most—half the picture. When we enter into another’s life—whether in the place of their home, work, the bar, an assisted-living facility, the hospital room, the funeral home, or even just in public passing—and wholeheartedly listen to them, engaging and connecting, we inadvertently open ourselves up to receive the other and as a result that which they bear. Have you ever walked away from a deep conversation feeling the same way you do after you’ve eaten too much—stuffed? This is not to say such experiences are burdensome or unhealthy. But, I do believe when we open ourselves up to truly experience another person for who they are altogether, we can’t help but walk away from that encounter with our hearts a little bit heavier from and by the occasion. Perhaps the analogy of weightlifting is suitable here: just as lifting weights repetitively builds muscle, so also wholeheartedly ministering again and again creates a weighty heart.
Like I said, for me, to think of the heart as becoming heavy from ministering—though it can be and is challenging along the way—is not considered to be burdensome. A heavy heart of one who takes serious the call to minister and practices it regularly in their daily life, if anything, actually draws a person closer to the ground. Like a balloon caught in the wind, worldly allurements grab ahold of us and draw us away from God and one another—until POP! A heart weighted down in and by ministering, however, brings us to the ground-level—against the many times cold, hard reality of life, but also in the midst of where we all reside. Not in the clouds, but in the candid mud and muck is where the heavy heart sits, listens, comforts, and prays. It is here—where others turn away and run to find somewhere else prettier, less painful—that the minister’s heavy heart takes root, is nourished in the Crucified and Risen Christ, sustained by the Spirit in and through the relationships of others, and grows to bear fruit for those whose journey comes in close and passes nearby. A heavy heart sees life from below—for exactly what it is. A heavy heart cannot help but to love the one who is hurting and in need. Trust, compassion, and hope stem forth from the one whose heart bears the life of others. Heavy is the heart who ministers. I don’t know, I could be wrong on this; but maybe in the heaviness of a ministering heart we come to experience a life light of all else. Could it be, that in giving ourselves to one another we in turn receive the gift of a heavy heart—brought closer to God?