Listen To Article
The gifted songwriter and balladeer Gordon Lightfoot passed away recently. I know from my many Canadian friends that he was something of a national treasure in Canada, but all of us who knew his work esteemed him. Following his passing, my wife and I used our Alexa to listen to his greatest songs, including “If You Could Read My Mind,” which I regard as right up there with 20th century songs like Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” or “Follow You, Follow Me” by Genesis/Phil Collins or Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”—songs that are so good they seem like they were inspired straight from above.
But the song that really struck me was Lightfoot’s “Rainy Day People.” Here is a song that all pastors should note because at the end of the day it is all about empathy and about some of the key skills any pastor should have in counseling with people. Parts of this song could be a primer for Pastoral Care 101.
“Rainy day people don’t talk, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.” Yes, that’s right. And as my wife sometimes reminds me, preachers are talkers and sometimes need to discipline themselves to throw themselves into neutral and be quiet. Listen. Listen to it all. Don’t jump to conclusions or arrive far too soon at a point where you think you don’t need to hear anything more. Just listen.
“Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell ‘ya they’ve been down like you. Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re cryin’ a tear or two.” Empathy is vital. Relate to people where they are at. Tell them you have been there too, though do not say that too quickly because each grief or sorrow is unique. But know, too, that as Gandalf once said in “The Lord of the Rings” when Frodo’s friends begin to weep at the moment of his departure for the Gray Havens, “Not all tears are an evil.” In fact, most tears are a good and natural thing. We can’t be put off by them.
“Rainy day people all know there’s no sorrow they can’t rise above. Rainy day people all know how it hangs on a piece of mind. Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell you, they’ve been down there too.”
Once again, it’s about empathy, it’s about identifying with the other person in pain. But it’s also about very quietly—without saying there are any shortcuts or that any two persons’ path to healing is exactly the same—that there can be hope. There is the chance that we can rise above. Not easily, not quickly. But there is always hope. No neat formulas but hope.
Well, I hope that in my ministry I now and again have managed to be a rainy day pastor. And when I wasn’t, I am sorry. One thing I am pretty sure about, however, is that the church these days needs lots of rainy day people—pastors, elders, deacons, and just anybody.
Our whole culture has turned away from being rainy day people. We don’t listen until we’ve heard it all. We listen until we have heard enough to make us angry and then we lash out. We don’t care much about what brings other people down and we sure don’t want to tell them we’ve been down as well. No, we want to tell them that what makes them down is wrong and if they thought aright, they would not be down at all.
I suppose that in my current context in the Christian Reformed Church and at the prospect of another synod coming up, I could hope that we could all listen until we’ve heard it all and then took it seriously enough to acknowledge the genuine pain we might hear. And yes, this goes both directions on any given issue. There is true grief and sorrow on both sides or all sides of any given issue, and that includes the issue of the hour in the CRCNA on sexuality and all issues related to Synod 2022’s decisions on LGBTQ+ issues. Neither “side” (I don’t like using such polar language since I think it’s more complicated than that) can claim to have a monopoly on concern and sorrow.
But maybe trying harder for all of us to be “Rainy Day People” might generate just enough love and empathy to avoid the harsh judgments we are all prone to. Whether or not this leads to a way forward that can help us find a unity we can live with, I cannot say. I just know I want to be a rainy day person.