By Ross Engel –
In death, we often find ourselves playing the, “if only I had done ____” game. We plague ourselves thinking of all the things we should have done, or could have done, or would have done. “If only we had left earlier.” “If only I had recognized that this was taking place.” “I should’ve known better.” “I could’ve done something.” “If only I would’ve done this instead.” As we focus on these should’ves, could’ves, and would’ves, we end up feeling guilty, because we don’t think we did enough or that maybe we did the wrong thing. We think that we “failed” our friend or loved one and since they are no longer with us, we can’t make amends for our actions or our lack thereof.
Some years ago I found myself sitting in the pew of a strange church for the funeral of one of my home-bound/shut-in congregation members. After years of regularly visiting her and hours of time spent with her, she passed away and for her funeral, I had been relegated to sit in a pew at some other church.
The extended family had made the decision that they wanted the funeral done at their church, even though their pastor only minimally knew anything about this kind woman. I was left on the sidelines for one of my own members and I was angry (the anger only got worse as I listened to the preacher’s funeral sermon which hardly delivered Jesus and didn’t include any mention of Baptism or the Resurrection!).
I could’ve done better, so I thought! If only I had done things differently, I’d be up there preaching the Gospel and she’d be with her church family instead of in a strange place with a strange pastor. If only I had been more direct with the family about the funeral.
Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve
As I sat there reflecting, I realized that I would need to fight for the members of my parish. In their lives, I’d have to fight off not only the vicious wolves of false doctrine and despair, but I would also have to fight for them in death so that their families would be able to have the true comfort of the Gospel and the Resurrection delivered to them in their time of sorrow, delivered by the very person who had been nourishing their loved one with God’s gracious gifts. I couldn’t be soft or a push-over, I would need to fight!
Then and there, in the pew of some unfamiliar church, I decided that there would be no more “should’ves, could’ves, and would’ves” in my ministry, especially when it came to delivering our Lord’s gracious gifts in a funeral setting. There could be no more regretting that I didn’t fight for this or stand up for that. I would stick to the Word and would stave off the guilt and sense of regret that can so easily creep in. Knowing that I will fail at this endeavor, it was important to remember that the only way to combat guilt and regret it is to trust in the forgiveness that God has for me. The very same forgiveness, life, and salvation that I proclaim week in and week out to the flock entrusted to my care. These gifts aren’t just for the flock, they’re for the shepherd, the pastor too!
Undershepherds of the Lord’s flock, fight for your flock. Fight off the wolves. Fight off the false teachers. And when those who are entrusted to your care find themselves at rest from the labors of this life, defend them and fight to make sure that you are given the opportunity to proclaim Christ and the forgiveness of sins, new life, and the salvation that He has delivered to the departed one, whom God called you to serve.
Some things are certainly worth fighting for, proclaiming the Gospel to those who are broken by the affects of sin, death, and the grave is one such thing! Don’t let your ministry be over-run by living with the guilt of “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.” Learn from your lapses and mistakes. Grow from them and don’t let yourself be crippled by them. Rejoice in the forgiveness that you have in Jesus. For Christ has set you free.