Note: This is another of my personal letters to my congregation.
I dropped the ball.
It started on Friday, two weeks ago, when I used the ten-minute window between one appointment and the next to check my email. I found a message from a church member telling me his wife had been diagnosed with cancer and would be having surgery soon. I felt that stabbing pain I feel whenever I hear or see the “C” word. I wrote back immediately and assured him of my prayers.
And then I went to my next appointment.
Fast forward to the following Saturday when I got an email from this same church member telling me, essentially, “I thought you cared.” It turns out his wife’s surgery had been scheduled for the following Tuesday, and in those long hours between Friday afternoon (when I had assured him of my prayers) and Tuesday morning (when she had gone into surgery) I had not been in touch. Nor had I been in touch in the days that followed, when she was recovering. In his words, my silence was “loud.”
I could make excuses. I could tell you that I was speaking at the choir retreat on the day after I got his email, and at the memorial service of long-time member John Farmer. I could tell you that I had to work around those events to get the sermon finished before the next morning, and that I ended up working late. I could tell you that I spent the next day fully involved in our annual “ONE Sunday” celebration and that after it I was exhausted. I could tell you that the next morning I woke up feeling sick, and by the next day barely had a voice. But not even that excuses my silence.
This is what I wrote in reply:
I dropped the ball. I failed you.
I could try to justify it by saying I had a lot on my plate last week, and I was not feeling well, but if I had taken even five minutes to put myself in your shoes, to think about how I would feel [in your situation], I would have done a much better job of caring for you and [your wife].
So, there’s no excuse. All I can say is I’m sorry. I am a human being who is fallible, and this last week I failed you. I hate that because I love you, and always look forward to speaking to you after worship on Sundays. I wish I could do this one over and get it right but in the meantime hear me say I am sorry.
I’ve been thinking about you so much since you reached out, and I am so glad you did, because otherwise I would not have known how deeply I hurt you.
I hope that in time you will be able to forgive me. For now, please know that I am saying prayers for you and [your wife], and ready to do whatever I can for the two of you.
With love and prayers,
I believe that in time he will be able to forgive me. He is a big-hearted person, and a true Christian. But it hurts me so much that I hurt him and I wonder how many times I have done the same to others, perhaps even to you. And so I ask:
Can you forgive me?
In my own words I am a human being who is fallible, and sometimes I fail people, and it grieves me more than you can know. One of the real hardships of being a pastor is going to bed every night knowing that you have probably let somebody down. I did that last night. But you get up the next morning and try again, and that’s what I’m doing today. If you need me, call me, and if I don’t respond, call again.
I don’t want to let you down.