“When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless -- a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other's need to be cared for. One sign is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess." - Parker Palmer
Prior to my sabbatical I was tired and burnt out. The pressures of planting and pastoring a new church for eight years had taken their toll. My mind was distracted, my relationships strained and my soul was weary. Admittedly, I blamed this all on the church. I had too many things to do, people to care for and decisions to make and there was never enough help.
But I was wrong. What led to my exhaustion was not my work; it was the way I was approaching my work.
Somewhere along the line I disconnected from God, the source of all life and vitality. I stopped trusting the Father to lead me along right paths and forged ahead on my own. Instead of trusting the all-powerful creator, I chose to depend on my own strength and creativity. Just as with the first humans in the Garden, this led to shame, fear and blame. Shame caused me to run further from God; fear forced my true self into hiding; and blame brought resentment and mistrust into all my key relationships.
Ministry became more of a way to fill a void in my life, than an overflow of God’s love from within my soul. I was trying to give something to others I did not possess myself.
I don’t think I was being intentionally deceitful or hypocritical. I still desperately wanted to invite others into the transforming experience of God’s grace and love. I wanted to build a perfect church and become the perfect pastor. I worked harder than ever on my sermons; scoured books and the internet for church growth solutions; implemented new systems and procedures for greater efficiency; but I was doing it all from the wrong place. I was doing good things for the wrong reasons and it was destroying my soul.
"Incongruent living is exhausting." - Brene Brown
Now I am learning to come out of hiding. I am learning to trust that God loves me, no matter how successful I am as a pastor. I am learning to trust others with what is really going on inside my soul and to rely on their support and direction. I am learning to trust myself, to set down the masks I once carried, and to know that I am enough just as I am.
"For the good [person] to realize that it is better to be whole than to be good is to enter on a strait and narrow path compared to which his [or her] previous rectitude was flowery license.” - John Middleton Murry
When we are rooted in our true self, we can act in ways that are life-giving for us and all whose lives we touch. Whatever we do to care for our true self is, in the long run, a gift to the world.
- Pastor Paul