Pastors have a list of things they never learned before becoming pastors. We learn skills – some more useful than other – and learn about God and how to wrestle with God, but only living a call can teach you what that life entails.
You never learn about agonizing over something every time you do it. I believe every pastor has their thing – the thing they demand perfection of themselves over. When it comes, you agonize over your thing every time, worrying yourself sick and polishing imperceptible imperfections out of your thing.
(For those entering ministry: if preaching becomes your thing you agonize over every time, you cannot sustain that for very long. Find another thing to agonize over. Just, trust me on this.)
I agonize over every funeral. I put every funeral liturgy together from scratch, pulling bits and piece from every worship book I have, rewriting already beautiful prayers to make them fit slightly better, worrying about doing more harm than good. I will rewrite the opening words at least three times before I allow myself to go to the next piece. I will spend more emotion energy on the short homily for every funeral than I do for half a dozen Sunday sermons.
I agonize for hours, and I love the privilege of it. I will agonize for multiple hours today over a funeral tomorrow, I will stand there at 11:00 A.M. in the most nervous state I regularly feel as a pastor, I will humbly present my offering for a man who I never met, and I will feel the presence of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in me for just those few moments.
I will declare the love of Christ for people looking for hope and comfort in pain and loss, and for that moment I can provide just a small measure of comfort.
This moment – this moment when the weight and agony of seeking perfection makes me question everything I know I do well – fills me with such joy that I can – that I get to – do this for a family that expects nothing more than just a few words taken from a book, given by a person who has a calming and loving presence.
Maybe it ages me, maybe it takes too much out of me in a time when I have so much extra taken out of me already, maybe I should stop agonizing over every liturgy and allow sufficient to be enough, but I love the privilege of the skill and the desire to agonize over this and make it unique, good, and holy.
This is blessed agony for me, and I would never trade it for anything. These are the moments I became a pastor for.