Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…

I have officiated at more than 900 funerals and half that many weddings. Weddings are technically harder, there is more choreography, there are more clients to please, the hosts feel an obligation to provide lavish hospitality for their guests, drinking often begins before the ceremony, and with two mothers, one bride and a wedding coordinator there are usually six different opinions. Weddings are also much more expensive. This raises the stakes, and the sense of entitlement. When it comes to success, in the short term, every couple who shows up, ends up married regardless of what unforeseen happenings might arise. Over the decades to come all bets are off; it is not easy staying married. My success rate at tying the knot is currently at 68.2 percent.

Funerals tap into a much different range of emotions. The community, filled with joy at a wedding, now finds itself in varying stages of grief. The loss experienced is real, people of faith look forward to a hope for heavenly reunion, but they also know that there is no hope of ever experiencing that reunion in this world. Wardrobe color coordination is much simpler, just wear black. There is no florist, photographer or caterer on site. Funerals are simpler in most every way. Unlike weddings not a single member of the surviving family has ever been buried before, very few spend extravagant money on guests, no drinking is involved, and when it is over our loved one has been remembered respectfully and buried. My success rate at funerals is one hundred percent, with not a single corpse complaining or rising from the dead.

This February morning just after Valentine’s Day provides us with an opportunity to consider and manage our expectations. Michael J. Fox is one of the most successful actors of our time, a star of the small screen and the big screen. His life and his livelihood were forever changed when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His battle has been honest and public. He has raised millions for research and inspired millions with his attitude. Fox writes, “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” By accepting life as it is and letting go of personal or societal expectations, Michael J. Fox continues to find meaning and happiness in his life. Can we live in the moment, can we enjoy each sunrise and sunset, can we break bread with others not finding it necessary to judge them, can we live each day without focusing on those things that are lacking in our lives?

At counseling sessions before the big day arrives, I remind the couple that living with someone over decades is insanely difficult. It is work, and it will always be work. Joyful work? Yes, but the vows that are exchanged are for life, and making this marriage work will be the greatest challenge of their life. In the wedding meditation, I tell them that there will most certainly be more tears than red roses, chocolate, and romantic getaways. In the years ahead they will doubt themselves, their spouse, and their love for each other. If this crazy idea of marriage is to last, then their love must be patient, kind, and compassionate, with heavy doses of forgiveness.

The author Jodi Picoult writes these words, “There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations.”

If you expect your love or marriage to be perfect, you are going to be disappointed. If you think that your body or mind will function as they did when you were 35 years old, you are setting yourself up for unhappiness. If you expect politicians to worry more about their constituents and less about reelection, well good luck. What should we expect? We should expect that we will stand at graveside in the year to come. We should expect moments of joy punctuated by, and interrupted by, darkness and sorrow. We should expect our loved ones to be frail humans who disappoint us from time to time. We should expect 2024 to be filled with many of the same problems that marked the previous thousand years.

I will leave you today with a word of wisdom to guide you and a simple prayer as you seek to navigate the year and manage your expectations:

Jesus said, “’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I am one beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread. I am your

Pastor Jim

Contact Pastor Jim if you have questions at [email protected]