Thursday, October 11, 2012
Here are four days that I revisit in my work life approximately every 4-6 weeks with Groundhog-Day-esque regularity:
One: the day on which I have completely and utterly run dry my stores of compassion and can no longer bring myself to care at all about any person or problem that comes through my door. From missing silver spoons to sick spouses to broken printers to "we-never-sing-the-good-old-hymns-anymore" to "I've been having a really tough time lately," all of them are undeserved annoyances rather than opportunities for ministry. Should a serious pastoral issue arise on this day, I must run on the back-up generator of emergency active listening skills which I learned long ago under the tutelage of a terrifying and manipulative German woman. "Mmhmmm," I say regularly. "Yes," I throw in. "That sounds overwhelming," I conclude, as I pray that the fumes of empathy on which I am depending in that moment will not run dry. I run home as soon as I am able and plot to go into some wing of denominational leadership that requires no interpersonal engagement.
Two: the day on which I conclude that the church has, inevitably, become completely and utterly irrelevant and that it is, in its entirety, a meaningless and pointless endeavor, a sham on which I am wasting my gifts and my life, and, sadly, into which I am also inviting others, which I am sure will lead to some sort of eternal punishment, except for the fact that I no longer have faith in the eternal. Why are we even here? is the question of this day, though no answer comes. It is on day two that I can see nothing of the importance of the songs we will sing or the words I will say on Sunday, and thus I spend a good part of the day hiding in my office pretending to write my sermon, but actually searching the internet for late admission law school programs, or public policy programs, or MFA programs or, in the darkest times, jobs in the food industry.
Three: The day on which I become convinced that it is not the church which is the problem, but rather me, devoid as I am of any skill or relevant talent that could provide meaningful care and leadership to this little community of wayfarers. It is on this day that I am absolutely sure that if I had any business being in the ministry at all I would have already led the church through an astonishing and energizing process of growth and transformation, a moderate Protestant version of the evangelical fervor of the 90s, the envy of church consultants' everywhere. On this day, the decline of Christendom is somehow my own personal failing, a shameful truth which will likely soon be exposed. This is the day on which my administrator thinks it strange that I have decided to take on making copies and rearranging the pens in the supply cabinet, and vacuuming the fellowship hall, scrambling, as I am, for some sense of having accomplished anything at all.
Four: the day on which these other three days seem impossible. This is the day on which for some unknown reason the sun comes up shining a little brighter, which for some unknown reason I am able to interpret as a sure sign that things are as they should be or at least that there is a purpose to the way things are. On this day, as I sit beside those who mourn, as I offer prayers at the bedside of the dying, as I write and sing and yes, search for missing silver spoons, I am certain I am just where I should be.
I don't know how or why these four days follow me so faithfully. I don't know if they are par for the course of ministry or if they are simply my own idiosyncratic reaction to this unique calling. What I know is that they keep coming around. I am learning that when I find myself on day one or two or three, when I am composing aloud in the car my law school admissions essay or my impassioned letter of resignation from the denomination or even selections from my memoir about my failure as a minister, I stop, take a breathe, and live into the hope that day four will come.