I’ve Been There Too

By The Rev. Canon Martha Tatarnic

As some of our readers know, I began receiving ministry coaching in the fall of 2020 from the Very Reverend Peter Elliott, retired dean of the cathedral in Vancouver. Ministry can be challenging, and it can be utterly impossible without drawing on the wisdom and experience of others. In our biweekly Zoom coaching sessions, we have talked through any number of dilemmas, hopes and dreams, identifying concrete next steps and longer-term strategies. 

I would say, though, that what has made the biggest difference to me has been those moments when Peter has been able to respond to one of my struggles with a story from his own experience. “I’ve been there too,” has been the solid ground in our coaching relationship, his offering to me that allows me to breathe, to trust, to trust myself and my experience, because someone that I respect so much has been there too. In all of the other work that we look at together, that starting point of companionship and understanding is an immeasurable treasure.

Now that we’re in the season of Easter, we get a flooding of images, hymns and prayers that speak of the triumphant, radiant, death-defying Jesus. But it can sometimes be difficult to remember why our Alleluias matter so much. When we ourselves are in a broken, lonely, grieving or lost time of our lives, the joyful proclamation of Easter can even feel alienating — and as the pandemic rages on, more of us than not might be experiencing this disconnect. 

In the triumphant, risen Jesus, what we need to keep track of is the very different kind of power Jesus accessed throughout his ministry. Time and time again — in the wilderness, in the quiet moments of prayer, in the garden of Gethsemene and on the cross —we see that the offering of Jesus’ ministry is grounded in his own weakness and vulnerability. He leads by going into every dark and fragile corner of what it means to be human, what it means to be haunted by demons, to need the tender care of another, to have his heart broken, to experience his own body failing and to expel his final breath. He teaches his followers, not how to be strong, but how to be totally and completely human. He teaches them to hunger, to need healing, to ask forgiveness, to give thanks, to not know everything, to be surprised, and to take up the cross as the walking wounded and follow Jesus on the pathway of love. 

In so doing, Jesus saves us. He doesn’t save us from the pain and suffering of our own mortality. He saves us for this loving relationship with God. He reveals this God who never stops drawing near to us, wherever we are on the wild pathways of life, and who offers us this life-giving gift: “I’ve been there too.” It is that joining of God’s experience to ours, whatever lost and lonely places we may get ourselves into, that then allows God’s life to be bound to ours, and for us to have a share in how God’s power — not ours, but God’s —raises us from death to new life and invites us to participate in the new creation.

Maybe you know something of how a friend, teacher, mentor or even a public figure has blessed you by speaking from their own experience into yours, allowing you to feel seen and connected and not alone. Maybe you have experienced how God has joined you on the winding road of life, how Jesus has befriended you with the light, healing, love, guidance, strength, peace and forgiveness you couldn’t generate on your own. Maybe this is your Easter prayer—to meet again the God who draws close, offering us this powerful gift: “I’ve been there too.”