Category Archives: Vocation

I Am Not Happy.

Lately I’ve had a case of the blahs.

I’m irritated with everything. I’m tired of everyone (hi honey…love you!). I am tired of my counseling practice and sick of being giving. I’m sick of weighing more than I want to but am unwilling to actually do what it takes to change that.  The worst part is that I am tired of caring…about pretty much everything. Every time I pull up next to a homeless person, I close my eyes and sigh because the feeling that I am supposed to do something for this person is draining the life out of me.  I know that sounds mean, but it’s just how I’m feeling right now.

I think I have what they call compassion fatigue. But I’m really low on passion for life and I’m drained of energy and ‘give a damn’ in general.

I could easily blame my blahs on menopause and there would be quite a bit of validity to that if I did. I am in the throes of wicked hot flashes, leg and foot cramps that strike without warning, pimples on my face and on the nape of my neck that just won’t quit, too many sleepless nights, and periods that remind me of the Arizona desert: some months it seems the river has run dry and other months are so bad it’s like “Noah! Get the boat!!”

TMI, I know.

While I am not going to lie about the stress that menopause is putting on my body and my life, I am unwilling to write off my blahs as a little menopausal mood swing because this has happened to me before.  In fact it has happened more than once, and every time, God was trying to tell me something.

This first time it happened, I was still a computer programmer and my children were still babies.  God used a major case of the blahs to convince me that I didn’t want to be a computer programmer anymore, which made it easier for me to obey God when God asked me to abandon my career and go to seminary full time. In other words, God used a case of the blahs to motivate me to ‘move on’…to get out of my rut and get my butt moving in the direction that He was pointing me.  Years later, as I reflected on that time and my experiences, I labeled what I was feeling as “holy discontent”.  To me, holy discontent is when God makes us restless, irritable, and maybe even downright unhappy until we realize that things need to change. It’s not that anything is actually wrong, it’s that God is not interested in us getting too content in that space. Holy discontent is what God uses to make us let go of things are no longer serve a purpose in our life and to start heading in God’s new direction for us.

I’ve been in this place for a couple of months now and I have only realized today that it might be holy discontent that I’m feeling.

Can we just admit that I’m kind of slow on the uptake?  Thanks.

In reflecting on my holy discontent, I don’t think that God is trying to lead me out of anything, although I need to leave the door open to that possibility just because I don’t want to shut off God’s guidance in this experience. The last time God planted a little holy discontent in my life was back in 2015 and it was because God wanted me to start writing. (Hello! Welcome to my blog! If it sucks, blame God. LOL)

I have no idea what God is trying to do in my life right now, although my reaction to the homeless person—the feeling that I’m supposed to do something for this person—might be a clue.  I don’t know.  Luckily, though, God has always been kind enough to place a few folks in my path to help me figure things out during past instances of holy discontent, which means that I should start keeping my eyes open for those folks.  It’s always easier to find someone if you are actually looking for them.

There is something else I think I’m going to do. A long time ago, a seminary friend of mine told me that the best way to devote yourself to the work of the Kingdom is to let God break your heart over some issue. Once your heart is broken, she said I would know where God’s heart was breaking and that would be my invitation to build the Kingdom in that broken spot.

Back when she said that to me, my heart was on fire for the Kingdom and I knew where God was calling me to work…in the broken spot of mental health counseling for the poor…and I don’t regret following the Lord into that spot, not one bit.  Now the fire in my heart is down to glowing coals that desperately need some kindling and I am consumed with holy discontent.

But I know what I need to do.

Holy, holy, holy Lord…I know You see this world and your heart breaks.  Break my heart into pieces, Lord, and show me where You hurt the most.  Then set my heart on fire again and give me strength to do Your will, whatever it is.

I pray it for me, and as we move into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday, I pray it for you too.

 

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The Society of People Who Drown

Today is one of those days when I have mixed emotions.  Let me explain.

I’m sad because all my clergy friends are on their way home from The Gathering, a yearly convocation of pastors in our conference of the United Methodist Church.  I haven’t been able to attend The Gathering for the last eight years, and it’ll be 2021 before I am able to attend.  Bummer!  The reason behind all this is long and complicated, so I’ll simplify it: you can only be out of the office so much if you are going to be a counselor that is effective, and so I allocate my days off to things like family vacation, family emergencies, and the things I do as a Methodist clergywoman that require me to be away from my counseling office.  There are only so many days off that I can take, and when it comes to attending The Gathering, I just don’t have enough days off to make it happen.  Again, bummer!

I suppose I can’t really complain. It’s not like I never get to see my clergy friends. All the clergy in our conference gather twice a year: once in February at The Gathering and once in June at Annual Conference.  And that’s where the happiness comes in!

You see, this week was a rough week: lots of tasks, lots of clients, too many crisis situations, etc.  I’ve written about this in past blog entries—weeks like this can make me feel squished. I start feeling like I am drowning in a sea of endless tasks and endless human need, feeling pushed under the surface by the sheer number of people who want to lean on me and believe that I can somehow give them what they want, what they think they need.

This, of course, is why I let my mind wander off to The Gathering, where a good friend of mine was giving her testimony about her call into ministry…and that’s when the happiness started.  I started thinking about her, and praying for her…and then I started thinking about Annual Conference.

Annual Conference is not some playground for pastors; we actually get quite a lot of work done, and I often find myself a bit stressed out during the conference because I have things I am supposed to get done, official roles I have to play, or presentations I have to make.  But no matter what, Annual Conference makes me happy, because in the end, I get to hang with my peeps. I get to spend five days with all my clergy friends. If I were being honest, I would mention that I’m not friends with all the clergy in this conference, but it doesn’t really matter because I’m just glad to be with my clergy colleagues.  When we get together, it is almost always a truly joyous occasion.  We laugh with one another, we pray with one another, and in general we love on one another as much as possible.

Why?  Because we are The Society of People Who Drown.

There isn’t a pastor or clergyperson on the face of the earth who doesn’t understand what I mean.  It doesn’t matter what kind of ministry you do—youth ministry, general church ministry, chaplaincy, counseling, urban ministry, ministry with the poor—if you are in ministry, some days you drown.  The human need is so great!  People come to pastors because they are seeking something, or more accurately, they are “wanting”: wanting answers; wanting connection to something bigger than themselves; wanting to feel God more deeply; wanting to hear God’s voice more clearly; wanting an instant family; wanting to know if what they are doing is right or wrong; wanting to know if they should give up or keep trying; wanting financial help; wanting forgiveness; wanting validation; wanting something that will end their misery and pain, wanting…wanting…SOMETHING.  Add that to all the other demands that go with managing a church (or an urban mission or a vital missions program or a counseling practice, etc.) and suddenly you find yourself drowning in a sea of tasks and endless human need, pushed under the surface by the sheer number of people who are leaning on you and hoping that you can help them get what they want, what they truly need.

Together, with my clergy colleagues, we are The Society of People Who Drown, and we are okay with that.

Because we have a Savior, and He has a boat.

And we know exactly whose hand plunges into the water to pull us to the surface.  Even when that hand looks exactly like the hand of one of my colleagues and comes attached to their voice, I know who is reaching into the water after me. And when I plunge my hand into the flood to grab one of my colleagues who is starting to go under, they know exactly who is guiding my hand; they know exactly who is pulling them out of the sea.

We have a Savior, and He has a boat.

Before we accepted our call to ministry all of us found ourselves standing on the beach, looking out across the water at Jesus in the boat.  There He was, floating in a sea of human need, calling to us as we stood on the shore, and one by one we all said “That’s it! I love you, and I’m coming in!” and then we waded into the water.  It seemed like the craziest thing to do, and yet none of us seemed to be able to choose anything else.

So here we are, treading water in a sea of human need, and occasionally drowning.  And we are okay with that.

We have a Savior, and He has a boat.

There is a reason why my clergy colleagues and I love each other so intensely; why we enjoy our time together so much.  There is a reason why we seek each other out to share both tears and laughter and to lift each other’s spirits.

It’s because each and every one of us is crazy.  Only crazy people wade into the water when all the evidence makes it look like you’ll drown!  But here we are, treading water in a sea of human need and occasionally drowning…and while it’s very difficult to do, we wouldn’t do anything else.  And we wouldn’t do it with anyone else.  These are my colleagues and like me, they are all crazy…crazy for the Man in the boat who is going to save us all…crazy for the One who reaches his arm into the flood over and over to pull us up and let us know that it’s okay…we aren’t going to drown, not really, because He has His eye on us, and He isn’t going to let anything take us under for good.

That is as true for me and my clergy colleagues as it is for everyone else. Jesus doesn’t just pull a few of us to the surface. He reaches in for each and every person, everywhere, all the time.

It isn’t just me and my clergy colleagues. It’s everyone.

We have a Savior, and He has a boat!

Hallelujah! Amen.

Grace In The Water

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.