Last night I chanced to hear a wise person share her story. She talked of successes and failures and the challenge of finding her right sized place in the midst of life. She named her struggle with ego, that even (especially) the business of offering service was prone to kicking her ego into hyperdrive and that in order to find serenity she need to keep her life, her world, her work smaller. She scaled back the meetings, the connections, the functions. She gave her life and calendar space. And she found her right size.
The wisdom she shared was hard won and I heard not only the value but also the cost. This is the wisdom that has been emerging in my life. Gradually discovering that no amount of redefining boundaries was going to make a vocational-spiritual mismatch work, slowly facing ego’s cunning in words like “influence” and “responsibility”, coming to terms with the treacherous training wheels that our masks offer. “Not my will but thine”, “not my church but God’s”, were common phrases in the business of leading a church, but the words are most often juxtaposed with the silent reality that the church’s health is co-mingled with the minister’s ego. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, but nonetheless co-mingled.
Some seasons I was on fire, some I was lying low, others I was feeling quite brave, still other’s I felt under attack. Constant was the sensation of being drug by my ego rather than by the spirit I longed to serve. In part it’s the nature of church in a declining market, with fewer buyers there is steep competition and ministers must market both themselves and their communities. As church becomes increasingly irrelevant on our cultural landscape, survival of the institution (and it’s professionals) skews the vision and commandeers the heart. My experience was indeed personal and unique, but at the same time quite common and at points universal. What was ultimately true for me, though, is that in the emotional field that is now the church, spiritual health was at best elusive.
As I begin a new job today, I am keenly aware and deeply grateful that this job is just that, a job. I will go to work and come home each day at specified hours, I will work as one among many and not be the person in charge, and my family life will be distinct from my professional one. In all honesty, I haven’t had such a job for 23 years; in the fall of 1989, I “became a minister” and my identity and work life have been as one ever since. Now retired from church work and in search of a right sized life, I am actually looking forward to a “job”. More, I am hopeful that the unfolding new rhythms of my life will foster greater serenity.
The personal story shared last evening was empowering as it named these themes and pointed to a more sustaining spiritual path. The path is not defined (pro or con) by a particular professional identity but rather by looking for meaning beyond the traditional foci of human striving. The path is defined by letting go of nouns, holding lightly the people, places and things, and finding ever deepening encounters with the sacred. Hearing the path articulated and celebrated on the eve of this next step of my own journey was manna, the kind of manna that I’ve come to depend upon in this new land.