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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. 

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Ed Starkenburg says:

    I love the song, and your reflection on it will help me remember be more of this type of brother to others. Thanks

  • Joyce Looman Kiel says:

    Wow! T thank you Scott. Especially: “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.” And especially as you remind us before the upcoming Synod. Prayers for rainy day people and me too.

  • Helen P says:

    Interestingly, I just listened to that and “Minstrel of the Dawn” this morning on my way to work only to read this five minutes later.
    Thank you Scott for a message that is good for all of us to hear…it again reminds me of the message we heard on Sunday which told us to be living stones and not bystanders…to be present in all things and witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ.

  • David Schelhaas says:

    Thanks, Scott. I loved the Gandalf reference.
    Most profound, though, was “Rainy day people listen till they hear it all.” As you say, the tendency is not to listen till we have heard it all, but till we have just enough to react angrily.

  • Jan Heerspink says:

    Thank you, Scott. There’s definitely a need for listening these days — listening well and long.

  • Alicia Mannes says:

    Beautifully said! Thanks!

  • Pete says:

    Thanks Scott, Good Stuff! My wife and I did the same thing…. Listening to his Greatest Hits album off Spotify while enjoying a late Friday night campfire in our backyard. I thought to myself that “Rainy Day People” would make a good sermon. Your reflections spur me onward.

  • Lisa Vander Wal says:

    Amen! Especially (from my “retired” perspective) the hope that I too have been a rainy day pastor.

  • Willemiena C Dykhouse McCarron says:

    I appreciate this comment, Scott -“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.”

    May we not lose hope.

  • Daniel Alberts says:

    Thank you. Coincidentally, this is the second time in two days I’m learning about the intersection of popular music and theology. Just yesterday I learned of the existence of the St John Coltrane church in San Francisco.

  • Thomas Bartha says:

    Thanks, Scott, for the good thoughts and fresh perspective on “Rainy Day People.” I was privileged to catch Gordon Lightfoot in concert several times over the years. So gifted in lyrics and memorable melodies.

  • Thomas Bartha says:

    PS One additional insight your essay has triggered: Those whose involvement in the church has faded over the years, or who simply have wearied of the dissent. I’ve not heard this exact sentiment expressed, but Gordon might well have captured it in…”I don’t know where (we/I) went wrong, but the feeling’s gone, and I just can’t get it back.”

  • Chris Nonhof says:

    One of my favorite words is prolepsis: the tendency to stop listening and think instead of our response or rebuttal. Thank you for sharing a positive perspective on what tends to be a negative definition.

  • Jack says:

    “And then what happened?”—Studs Terkel on what is the most important thing to say, when listening, caring, empathizing. Happy birthday, Studs.
    And thank you, Dr. Hoezee for so kindly telling us what then happened.

  • David says:

    Great advice.

  • June says:

    Love every bit of this. Let it be – you’ve whispered words of wisdom – let it be.

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