Was it something I said?


After 32 years of ordained ministry I’m still surprised by the effect I sometimes have on people.

And I realize that it’s not me so much as the office to which I’m ordained.

You might think I would have become used to it by now, but that hasn’t happened.  And now I’m beginning to think my surprise will never go away.

The surprise comes when someone will say, “Remember ten years ago when you preached about …?”  Of course I’ll nod my head vigorously, but will have no clue as to what sermon the person is talking about.

That person will say, “Well, I took what you said to heart, and here’s what I did.”  And then I’ll hear a story about quitting a job or ending a relationship or moving to a new state or something.  Yikes, I’ll think, you did that because of something I said?

I preached a sermon one time – this was more than 10 years ago – about how the small decisions we make in life add up, how most of our lives are a series of small decisions, and how we’re remembered often for the cumulative effect, not for one or two really big decisions we made.  I happened to mention that pulling forward to the farthest gas pump instead of pulling up to the closest one (and making others drive around) might be an important decision to make, especially if it’s multiplied by dozens or even hundreds of times throughout our lives.  I don’t think you could find those words in the manuscript, but they occurred to me and I said them.

And guess what?  I received an email last week from someone who told me that he’s never forgotten that, that every time he pulls up to a gas pump he goes forward a bit to make things easier for the person who pulls up behind him.  But more important, he remembered the point of the sermon and said he wanted to be remembered for all of the small and seemingly insignificant decisions that add up to a lifetime of behavior.

Another time I gave the baccalaureate address at Hanover College and titled it “Called to be a loser!”  I was speaking mainly to the graduating class and telling them that we are sometimes called to lose what matters in this world in order to gain the things that have everlasting value.  It didn’t occur to me that a parent might be listening in the bleachers somewhere and taking my words to heart.

A few months ago I received an email from a man who was there that day and tracked me down at my new church and wanted to let me know how much those words affected him.  He left his job, enrolled in seminary, and is now serving a church on the other side of the country.  He was hoping we would meet again sometime.

As I mentioned, I don’t think it’s me so much as my office.  People come to church to sing and pray, yes, but mostly they come wondering if God might have a word for them.

And – surprise, surprise – sometimes they hear one.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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8 Responses to Was it something I said?

  1. Miss Mandana Sharifi January 15, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    I totally agree with you as it’s the little things that one remembers down the road years later when something similar occurs! I cherish and embrace those moments! Thank you for your words of wisdom :0) Mandana….

  2. Bob Sadowski January 15, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    well it is certainly better than hearing them say, “I came for the cookies”

  3. Bob Sadowski January 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    and yes it was something you said, I always listen for that little thought that I can do something about, even if it is only an item for the pulpit or hidden in your office!

    • Doug January 15, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

      Bob, I’m always amazed with what you take away from Sunday morning!

  4. Sandy Steffen January 15, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    Hey, I did come for the windmill cookies!! (only half true) All kidding aside Doug, I get a little nugget of Gods love every Sunday and I am very thankful for that. Keep up the excellent work. ( :

  5. Carl Wilton January 15, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    I preached a sermon at the chartering service for a new church once that was called “A Hole in the Roof.” It was on the biblical passage about the paralytic whose friends cut a hole in the roof and lowered him down so Jesus could heal him. My point was that churches need to keep a “hole in the roof” so they don’t lose their sense of mission to the community around them. Years later, when I attended the dedication service of their building, I was told that they had insisted on including a cupola on the top of their sanctuary that let natural light in, as a reminder to themselves about keeping that hole in the roof. I’d say I was floored, if it weren’t for the fact that it was the ceiling they were talking about. I had no idea. I’ve had my sermons result in all sorts of things, but that was the first (and probably the last) sermon of mine that every issued in architecture.

    • Doug January 16, 2013 at 4:45 am #

      That’s a wonderful one. I can’t say that’s ever happened to me, but I’ll be careful from now on about suggesting anything to do with the roof!

  6. Anita Brechtel January 16, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    I,ve had similar experiences as a teacher. I,ll run into someone and they,ll say…remember what you told us in class. It’s frightening and a good feeling when good thoughts are recalled and applied. really enjoyed the article (blog)
    Have a good week Anita

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