Pastoral work acknowledges the difficulty and the pain of the quest and shares it.
It does not attribute the agony of longing to a neurosis, it does not search for a cause in moral deficiency, it does not try to “cure” it by working for an adaptive adjustment to ‘reality.’ It honors the quest. The difficult painful moments of unfulfilled longing are integral to the nature of the relationships.
It is not the pastor’s job to simplify the spiritual life, to devise common-denominator formulas, to smooth out the path of discipleship. Some difficulties are inherent in the way of spiritual growth —- to deny them, to minimize them, or to offer shortcuts is to divert the person from true growth.
It is the pastors’ task, rather, to be companions to persons who are in the midst of difficulty, to acknowledge the difficulty and thereby give it significance, and to converse and pray with them through the time so that the loneliness is lightened, somewhat, and hope is maintained, somehow.
The simplifiers, however well-intentioned they are, are the bane of good pastoral work. The spate of inspirational-testimonial religious writing that seems to find such a ready market in the Christian community is an instance of such well-intentioned simplification that results in alter complications. The stories are not honest. They are written under the direction of a market-oriented editor, not to tell the truth of Christian conversion and growth, but to tell the one part of the truth that will appeal to the element of spiritual sloth in every Christian that wants to skip the hard parts of discipleship.
- from Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work by Eugene H. Perterson