All my friends are dead.
Whoa, don’t freak out. It’s a figure of speech–kind of. Actually, it’s the title of a book. A spoofy children’s book for adults. There’s a drawing of an unamused dinosaur on the front next to the bold font, “All my friends are dead.” In the book’s own words, it’s “a delightful primer on the inevitable,” like the sock whose partner has gone missing or the tree whose friends have all become paper. My wife and I saw the book one day and laughed out loud as we paged through it.
Then I almost cried.
As a missions pastor I totally identify with the gulping, perplexed posture of the last lone dinosaur. Much of my time is spent with people who are inevitably going to leave me. Just a few Sundays ago I led our church’s commissioning of a young missionary. I had the pleasure of journeying closely with him over the past year and a half. I remember the first time we met and he told me he wanted to be a missionary. We traveled on a short-term mission trip together to Europe, where he really proved himself. He had meals in my home and I think became my daughter’s first crush. We walked through hefty applications together, as well as the process of deciding where in the world to go serve.
Most significant to me, we met regularly for six months, exploring his deepest struggles and applying the gospel to them. You know, the most important kind of preparation for anything. He grew. I grew.
At our very last meeting together, he confessed to me, “More than ever before, I realize how weak I am and how much I need Jesus.” Then I knew. He was ready to be a missionary.
Now I’m like a proud, pitiful papa. I’m confident he’ll be a gift to his team and his people. I know he’ll come back changed. I also know he’ll suffer. When I really think about it, and I’m a guy, so I really have to think about it, I’m feeling lots of different things. Proud. Sad. Nervous. Excited. Lonely.
Honestly, a lot of how I feel is selfish. I feel sorry for myself for being left behind. I feel insignificant because I’ll only influence him from a distance. I feel insecure because I probably could have better prepared him. And I feel anxious that his “performance” will be a reflection on my leadership.
There’s my pedestaled pastor’s heart on full display. In his book The Pastor’s Justification, Jared Wilson writes of such ornery ones as me,
there is something both lay elders and career elders have in common, something I’ve seen in the thirty-year senior pastor of a southern megachurch as well as the bivocational shepherd of a little, rural New England parish, the laid-back fauxhawked church planter and the fancy mousse-haired charismatic, and in nearly every pastor in between: a profound sense of insecurity for which the only antidote is the gospel.
So you’re telling me, Jared, that the same things I teach to missionaries are what I need too? That my worth to God is not based on my effectiveness in his mission? That on my best day I’m still desperately needy for Jesus and his grace? That my suffering and sacrifices don’t make me better than other Christians? That God doesn’t just want to work through me but also in me? That I am known and loved by God and that’s my greatest boast? That these chafing goodbyes are meant to lead my heart toward a better country, where God
will dwell with [us], and [we] will be his people, and God himself will be with [us] as [our] God. He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4) [?]
That is good news for me. Even if all my friends are dead.