Sunday, July 02, 2006


I'm realizing, more and more, that being a pastor is about making decisions and sticking with them -- not second-guessing and doubting, but doing whatever it is that I'm doing with confidence. I know that could be applied to nearly everything in life... but it's where I'm at right now. I have a tendency to obsess about things -- you know, that late-in-the-night, can't-stop-thinking, bit...

I've made some decisions this past week and while I don't know how they will play out long-term, I know that they were what I had to do for my own sense of well-being and health. I don't like being so tired and on-edge that I snap at well-meaning parishioners when they ask me how I am. Two funerals and family in town on the heels of being away for church business for a week doesn't do a girl good, I've learned. And, yet, this is what pastors do -- when people die, we bury them. When people get sick, we visit them. When people have a problem and sit in our office, we listen and possibly refer. This is what I've been waiting to do, and now that I'm the only show around, it's what I'm doing.

A week ago I wrote about possibly feeling human sometime "next week." Perhaps that's a perpetual cry as a week has come and gone and I'm even farther away from recovering, but I don't believe that it has to be that way -- I don't believe that we're called as pastors, as mothers, as children of God, as people to run ourselves ragged so that others around us can be well. If I care for everyone around me but never for myself, how long will that model last? Not much longer is what I'm discovering. I knew this all along, knew it in my heart and wrote about it in my candidacy essays, but knowing something and living it out are two different things sometimes.

I live in an area where everyone is incredibly busy and over-programmed. I've said before that I want church to be a place where, kids particularly, can come and simply be, where they can rest in their faith and not have to do. I need to take my own words to heart and lead by example. I'm still learning. Still learning, for sure.


Kathryn said...

"If I care for everyone around me but never for myself, how long will that model last? Not much longer is what I'm discovering."
It's a killer, that one, isn't it...because I guess somewhere in the dna we have embedded a "give till you can give no more" gene, which tends to complicate things and make rational decisions harder. But I would say that refusing to collude with a "Do everything and then some" culture is one of the distinctive gifts that women can bring to ministry...for far too many years men were prepared to work ridiculous hours, sacrificing themselves and their families on the altar of their vocation.
And we won't do it, will we (she says pointedly to herself!)
Prayers and love as you work through this...and prayers for a more restless week ahead too. xx

Songbird said...

And the men who did what Kathryn describes were enabled (in both the good and the bad sense) by their wives. I don't know about you, but I don't have one of those!!
Keep working on it, Pink Shoes, and so will I.

reverendmother said...

Amen, sister. Let's all work on it together.

cheesehead said...

Save me a seat at the Overfunctioners Anonymous meeting.

reverendmother said...

BTW, I read a book a couple years back called the Messiah Trap that talked about the two false assumptions of overfunctioners, especially those of us in the helping professions:

1. Everyone's needs are more important than mine.
2. If I don't do it, it won't get done.

I really identified with this. Still, when you feel you have nothing left to give, yet you're faced with a screaming child, or a parishioner who has died, what are you supposed to do?

The problem is that assumption #2 is quite frequently based on fact. I *am*, in fact, the only person who can breastfeed M in the middle of the night. If I don't feed her, she doesn't get fed. (Yes, I know, formula, pumping, blah blah blah.) And if I'm the solo pastor, or my head of staff's on vacation, you better believe I'm the one who's supposed to respond when the parishioner dies.

So I don't know the answer, except that maybe assumption #1 is supposed to mitigate #2. Assumption #1 is a macro thing--looking at the big picture of your life, you need to take care of yourself. Y'know, that whole "put on your own oxygen mask first" thing. But the reality is that in the moment-by-moment micro stuff, others will often come first by necessity. Such is the minister/mom thing (though not limited to us!).

Just some further ruminations on your great, honest post. Hang in there.

juniper68 said...

Thanks so much for this thoughtful post. I agree with Songbird - it seems like our model of ministry is based on having an unpaid associate (aka Wife) to run the Sunday school, play the organ and take care of the home and kids. I dont have one either! As women, how can we be about creating a new model of ministry that is based in the reality of our lives, and is also a good model for our over-stretched parishioners?

net said...

Isn't it strange how we do not offer to ourselves the same grace we offer to everyone else?

I take periodic "MHDs" - Mental Health Days!

An awesome book that really helped me out (and I'm recommending it) is Self-Care for Clergy: Finding a Balance for Effective Ministry by Roy M. Oswald. Printed by the Alban Institute. Sells for $18 at

Be blessed!

St. Inuksuk said...

We are all still learning.
Prayers are with you and with us all as we seek balance and honor time. I say this after an exhausting week with 3 12 hour days in a row!!! God be with us and slow us down. Hugs.

Questing Parson said...

Wasn't it old Brother Rabbit who had that "Laughing Place." I learned somewhere around the thirtieth year of my ministry I needed a laughing place, too. Now, I go there every week. I write it on my calendar. When someone calls I honestly say, "I'm sorry but I have something on my calendar for that day." And off I go to my laughing place. When I come home I can meet those sometimes horrific and sometimes ridiculous demands with a smile and a sense of completeness.

Find a laughing place and enjoy it no matter what.

Pink Shoes said...

Thanks, all... I'll look for that book, RM... and I particularly like the reinforcement of the idea of mental health days and laughing places... Since I've now had two days of not being in the office or even really thinking about the office, I'm starting to feel like it's all going to be OK, but I also recognize that I'm still close to the edge...

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I was on the call committee for the last pastor search. Each of our candidates was a rookie. Each expressed things about time for self. I was glad to see that the seminaries are teaching this and teaching about boundaries.

So I've asked the pastor we chose about this. She said that there is such a high burn-out rate that they are indeed trying to teach these things. She makes sure she takes days with her husband and comp time when there are meetings and funerals, etc. She started her first week of ministry with about the normal number of funerals for 6 months.

So there is taking time for oneself. There is developing leadership in the congregation, if it isn't there already, so that when something is delegated, you can let it go. [If you are following a do-it-all-himself pastor, this will be much harder.] And there is learning to set boundaries. If you haven't ever read about boundaries, do so.

We had a pastor a number of years ago who instituted a number of committees. He never led the committees, but sat there, answered questions if necessary. People thought he was lazy. I think he was wise. We have developed a strong lay leadership that continues to this day.

May God bless your discernment. Visit N.E.MN in your mind when you need a mental health break, but you are stuck in the office. The weather here has been beautiful.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I'm reading a book I picked off the shelf where I currently am visiting. It is about a different way to configure the mission of a church. I think it might fit what you want to go, but a hard transition for most churches given that most pastors of the PAST (hmmm, interesting use of the word there) were do it all pastors, but that makes for do-it-less parishioners. I'll post on my blog about the book in a few days.