Hebrews 4:14-16 “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
I went to see my counselor today. She’s a great lady who gives me good advice and lets me prattle on until I actually hear myself and find my way to clarity despite all the clutter in my head. I see a counselor because I realized about four months ago that I was slipping into depression and needed some help to figure out what was knocking me down emotionally. I also went to my doctor for a passel of blood tests to make sure that my health wasn’t giving me a run for my money, but pretty much all they told me was that I’m menopausal. No?! Really? I would never have guessed that! Actually, I’d already guessed that menopause was contributing to my depression. Still, it’s always good to have a counselor to help you sort out your weirdness, so off I went to see Sharon.
Sharon and I had a lot to catch up on, since it had been a month since our last session and I told her all about my trip to Minneapolis and WX2015 (see earlier post from September 25) and my latest retreat with the Board of Ordained Ministry. I found myself talking about how I continue to feel squished (earlier post from August 8) and yet how I feel called to take care of my colleagues in ministry. I’m a licensed mental health counselor and a Methodist minister, and honestly, having a practice full of mentally ill clients to take care of is plenty of work to do. I also do a lot of work for the Church that involves taking care of folks in my congregation who need spiritual care, working at the conference level to train people in health and caring ministries and working with the Board of Ordained Ministry to vet and develop of new ministers. Believe me, I have more than enough work to do…and yet the minute I get some free time to hang out with my colleagues in ministry, I feel a deep call to provide pastoral care to some of them. Why?
Ministry is an incredibly draining job. I won’t go into some long explanation to try and justify that statement because nothing I could tell you can describe what it’s like to be a minister…except to say that you do your best to be a spiritual guide for your congregation, a leadership coach to develop new ministry leaders, and an impartial referee to the many ministry groups at the church who want time and resources so they can do their very important jobs in the church. Essentially you become the parent-figure to a huge body of adults who want the right to cry on your shoulder when they hurt, be comforted and guided when they are wounded, and get advice when they feel lost, while they retain the right to tell you to shut up, go away, and do what the congregation tells you to do when they’re feeling like you stepped on their authority. And don’t get me started on the power struggles between the various church leaders and ministry groups. And let’s not forget that these ministers usually have families and that means children…sometimes teenage children…at home. NOW you know why your pastor is so frazzled.
Anyway…Sharon and I were talking about why I feel such a strong calling to take care of my colleagues, to listen to them and cry with them and pray with them. I told her that when I get together with my colleagues, I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of broken bodies, all of them doing their best to suffer quietly and not drown. I told her that I often wish I could just swim by and go about my business but any time I try to do that, I remember that God never tells me that He’s too busy to listen, or too overwhelmed to stop and deal with my fears or my pain. You could say that it’s guilt that motivates me, but it isn’t guilt. It’s an extreme awareness of the grace that is mine every day.
Then Sharon reminded me that this is why I feel squished…why I get so exhausted and exasperated. Then she asked me why I feel so responsible about this, why I feel like I have to do something about it when in reality I am no less broken than the folks in the sea around me. I know that she’s right, and yet…
Mark 6:30-34b30 “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
This part of scripture occurs shortly after Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, is murdered in prison. Jesus is grieving and his disciples are exhausted, so they try to escape to a quiet place to rest and recoup…only to be met there by throngs of broken people. 34b And he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
I don’t abuse myself with the notion that Jesus was infinitely patient at moments like these. I don’t pretend that He wasn’t exasperated and frustrated and feeling squished. But I know that despite all of that, Jesus found compassion for the sea of broken bodies He was swimming in and He reached out them, to heal them, to comfort them, and to listen to all their sorrows.
I’m not the greatest Christian in the world. I fail the holiness test in a BIG way, every time. I’m not doing justice ministries out in the streets. I’m not out in some far flung location in a third world country, living barely above the poverty line as I reach out to those who live in far worse circumstances than I do. I’ve never been on a mission trip, and I don’t do youth lock-ins. I’m not much for leaving behind my physical comforts. I don’t do any kind of ministry that gets accolades for being really bold and out there on the cutting edge.
On the other hand, I am filled with compassion for the broken bodies that are all around me everywhere I go, especially when those broken bodies are my colleagues in ministry. I am just as tired and exasperated as I think that Jesus was…and yet I can’t find my way to doing anything other than what He did, which for me looks like reaching out and grabbing onto the closest broken and possibly drowning person and listening to them pour out their frustrations and their sorrows. I can’t seem to turn away from their pain because it calls to the Christ within me, calling out the best parts of me that can only really be Him living within me, doing the healing work that only Christ can do.
I sat there in Sharon’s office crying while we talked about this because I feel it so deeply. I told her that I don’t see myself ever doing anything great for the Kingdom, but that doing this one thing would be enough to serve Him. And that’s why I can’t swim past the broken bodies of my colleagues.
All I know is that I follow an exhausted, exasperated Savior who stopped and cared for every gasping, drowning, broken body He found, including mine, and I would do anything to pay Him back for that.