“Bill could use a visit from you, if you have time,” urged the early morning text. “If you have time,” she wrote, assuming that I am busy, even in the slow weeks of summer. Pastors stay busy. If we didn’t, people might notice the embarrassment, the exposure of how little of God we actually have to offer. Pastors are saved by people who send messages like this early morning plea, people who know what we ministers are supposed to offer and who expect it.
Thus I found myself back at the farm, a quarter-mile gravel drive into the heart of a pastoral Eden besieged by carpools, Starbuck’s to-go and all the things that keep pastors busy. Bill’s world had come to an end two weeks ago when Tim, the farm’s owner, left us. Without having the courtesy of asking if this might be a convenient time, Tim just dropped dead, and the worlds of those who knew him came to an end. “Bill could use a visit…” Thus we sat cradling our coffee, watching the sun peek through the trees, mildly surprised to observe that it had risen once again.
What does the future hold for a farm without an owner? For a horse wrangler whose herd has dwindled to two elderly mares? What’s ahead for a ranch encircled by golf-course developers, and for its lone ranch-hand? “I don’t just work this place,” Bill sighed, “I love this place. It’s home to me.” Yep, Bill could use a visit.
Being a pastor consists mostly of sitting beside people as they face the reality of how fragile lives are. The world is indeed coming to an end, every single day. People who say they don’t mind facing that truth are lying. The truth is hard. And we can devise a dozen ways to avoid it. When we do gain the courage, it helps to have someone around, even it that someone is a pastor with very few answers.
We didn’t search for answers. We just sat in the morning dew and rocked. Bill talked about his church and the faith he gains there. “We’re hard-core Baptist,” he reminds me, aware that I am frozen-chosen Presbyterian. We talked of rattlesnakes he’d encountered in the fields near his own home. He didn’t mention any rattlesnakes in his church, for which I was grateful. We even talked about Jesus. Mostly we rocked and gazed at the hay which Bill would cut that afternoon.
Then I knew it was time to leave. A sense of calm had imperceptibly come over us. It felt different from when I’d arrived. Something had changed, not so much in Bill as in me. I didn’t feel busy. I suspected that my own unknown future was in God’s hands, and for a while that would be good enough. Bill said he felt the same way.
“Bill could use a visit from you,” the text had said. The true message was more like, “If you and Bill could find some time together, I’ll visit both of you at once.” I don’t need to be a pastor to understand where that message came from.