Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Caught out

I do love parish ministry. Doesn't mean I always like it. Now, don't get too freaked out...instead, think about your own life and relationships. I can almost declare a sure bet with you that there are relationships or tasks in your work in life that are either periodically or chronically challenging. That is part of life, and I am convinced, part of being a growing person. A calling that does not cause us to be stretched and worked over from time to time is no calling, really. Real growth and real evolution occur when we are willing to be the hunk of metaphorical clay on the proverbial potter's wheel. Pushed and pulled, shaped and scraped, we go from raw and unformed to refined and finished with the potter's purpose in mind.

It does not mean that the experience is always welcome or pleasurable. I remember playing soccer years ago, and the sprints at the end of practice were, I was convinced, a brutal torture our coach engaged on our behalf in order to see what was left of lunch in us. There were days when I left those practices hurt. Still, by the end of the preseason...even into the playoffs, we were always improving, getting faster-more fit.

Parish ministry can be like that...but more often than not those challenges and stretchings are not found in windsprints or pushups. They are found in the interpersonal relationships expressed in the pews, at meetings and in pastoral encounters. Being healthy, I would seek to absorb and learn from those difficult moments. Being tired, I realize that absorption is always tempered with sensitivity to the people in front of me and with my own ability to digest.

Getting a critical call or email or having a challenging personal interaction is tough on me, but ultimately it should be fruitful...

Getting through days when there is little relent, though, means that I have to make sure the last person does not incur wrath or frustration from my encounter with the first.

I am sure parents face this reality. You work all day, struggle with whatever and then face having to walk back into relationship with your family with that baggage, and theirs, to resolve before you lay head to pillow for your evenings rest.

In St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he waxes poetic in the 13th chapter about love in community...how it "bears all things..." Being in that place is wonderful, but too often we forget that it requires discipline and practice in order to avoid tripping into dark places of stress, resentment, exhaustion, burnout, contempt or fear/hate.

Not easy, never easy, but full of grace.

Loving parish ministry has taught me to bear with it when my own fatigue, emotional reserves and patience are run out. Loving parish ministry reminds me that once those seasons of tough turns are worked through, the gift of seeing life lived out faithfully in community is respite, more than enough.

Thirst in the desert is tough, though. Darn tough.

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