I read an article, not too long ago, that talked about the things that create stress in different professions and vocations. Some of those stressors relate to things like long hours, or heavy work loads...tough deadlines and high performance expectations. We have all heard of, and some of us know firsthand, of the experiences of new medical interns and residents. They get little sleep and LOTS of challenge. People's lives are in their hands for the first time and the responsibility was awesome! I am sure those rushes of adrenaline and emotion are a good thing at first. After years of study, a new doctor is finally getting their hands and heart into the work that they felt called to in the first place...but then come the long shifts and endless hours. Adrenaline can't preserve you through those eternities. Something else has to kick in. God willing, that will be heart and skill.
Priests, according to this article, face some rather unique stresses. We have the same long hours, and many of the stresses of professional life that others do-high expectations of parishioners, tough and demanding deadline work (sermons, what-have-you)...and one thing that the writers of this piece noted was pretty unique: radical emotional availability to others.
What does that mean? More than just being open to having someone yell at you did or did not do in one moment and then having to answer to a stranger on the phone or at the door with a smile the next. It is about having a calling that takes you, sometimes in a single day, from a funeral to a baptism to a wedding to someone's sick- or deathbed and back again...and being called upon to be fully present and aware and available in each of those moments.
Crazy, huh? I have a friend who is a physician...and I distinctly remember him calling me to tell me that he had just delivered his first baby. Well and good, but we only got around 10 minutes to celebrate that fact, because he had to check on the chart of another pediatric patient who was probably not going to last the night.
This is just the reality that some people wind up being called upon to live into.
This past week, I have had that experience, and I remain slightly dazed from the roller coaster ride. In a three days span of time, I spoke to a Men's Breakfast on the state of the Anglican Communion, our Diocese and the Parish; prepped my assistant and made sure she was resourced for her first solo funeral (she did great I am told!); celebrated a wedding; officiated at a blessing of the animals in commemoration of St. Francis; anointed a VERY sick cat, two terriers and five horses at the farm of some parishioners; drove 11 hours and then preached at the funeral of my uncle; then buried him; then celebrated my mother-in-law's continuing recovery from last year's stroke with a surprise drop in visit. Oh, and let's not forget that my sister walked in Philly for the 3-day Susan G. Komen breast cancer walk, and as she struggled with injuries and fatigue, Laura and I made as many runs down to the walk as we were able in between weddings, packing and funerals.
This really goes beyond busy, and I sit here humbled and thankful for the grace God has given me in my calling to serve as a priest a church I love so much...and to have those gifts available as well to family and friends. It goes to a deepening understanding, even after over a decade of service, to what is demanded of us as human beings when it comes to events and our emotional responses to them. Switching back and forth from happy to sad at a strong pace is not just an emotional challenge, it is a physical one as well.
This little personal jaunt through the full gamut of human experiences in the past week has also reminded me just how important it is, how sacred an act it is, to hold ourselves tenderly in the present and not to rush past it into an uncertain future just because the "now" is tough.
In three days I was at the limit of sad, mad, glad, proud, happy, stressed, worried, tired, thoughtful, hopeful, depressed, bereft, giddy, playful, grateful, loved, loving, held, alone, etc.
And I give thanks for every moment.
It is, after all, what makes us human.