by Robert Earl Houston
I am, as many people know, a week from having surgery to remove cancer from my foot. I have my good days and bad days, good hours and bad hours, and I’ve had to bring to a crashing halt a 29 hour a day schedule. My church leadership are in obvious partnership with my wife and the church is doing their thing and taking tons of pressure off of me.
It would be easy just to curl up into a ball and not mention, say, blog, write or utter a word about my illness. Matter of fact, 35 years ago when I was called into the ministry, we were taught not to tell our personal business, especially illnesses. Only a few people knew of a pastor’s illness and in most cases, churches were never informed and then shocked to see their pastor after chemotherapy or radiation therapy or a massive weight loss. It was to be a “secret” and no matter the origin or diagnosis – it was considered “off limits” to discuss your illness.
But in 2013, there are more and more pastors who are changing that paradigm and I think that our mindsets were changed by the late Dr. E.K. Bailey. Dr. Bailey, founder, builder and pastor of the Concord Church in Dallas, had three battles with cancer while he was a loving husband, father, pastor, and International Preaching Conference founder. Matter of fact, Dr. Bailey along with others like Dr. R.A. Williams, Dr. Larry L. Harris, Dr. George Waddles, Dr. A. Louis Patterson, and others introduced expository preaching to generations of African-American pastors and preachers.
Dr. Bailey’s illness took it’s toll on him, his family, and his church – but he decided to be transparent. Through the media powerhouse of Concord Church and by his presence at conferences, even when people knew he was ill – it was important for him to get the word out. That word was never mentioned across pulpits and it was thought to be not suitable for pulpits in the day – that the Pastor has to not only model victory in Christ, he also has to model pain and affliction. No one has bought the “Non-Job Version” of the Scriptures – every Bible contained the painful, detailed blog of Job during his time of affliction. Many a pastor, family, and person has found comfort generations later because of Job’s exposition and Dr. Bailey (and those of us today) feel that giving you a look into a time of personal pain and turmoil – that it will help somebody.
Professor Raymond Raspberry penned the song, “If I can help somebody as I travel a long . . . then my living will not be in vain.” I want you to know that there are days when the comfort can be unbearable. I want you to know that sometimes I feel like saying “dammit these needles hurt.” I want you to know that sometimes I feel powerless and have to rely upon my wife to help me lift up off of the bed because I just don’t have the strength. I want you to know that surgery was over two hours, that the portion of flesh removed was larger than expected. I want you to know that they put a tube down my throat.
Not for your pity . . . but so that when (and hopefully it won’t) your time comes, you can remember that the preacher from Kentucky told me that it was painful, but that God will bring you through. You can remember that when that pastor from Kentucky went through it, he had a church by his side, in prayer and support. You can remember that when his wife was worried about her husband, that women gathered together to help his wife and that we need to help our pastor’s wife as well.
It’s a transparency that is missing in the body of Christ. Our shouting is misunderstood by some people because they have no idea what we’ve been through. Our celebration is misunderstood because they’ve never heard us say “I survived cancer . . . I survived divorce . . . I survived troubled times.”
So I applaud Pastors who have that same mind set (I won’t mention names here because I don’t have everyone’s permission to do so) – who want you to know that our calling did not disconnect us from seasons of pain. But what our calling did is to amplify the prophetical and encouraging voices to tell you, as a fellow traveller, that with God, all things are possible.
Your comments are welcomed.