When I saw this story I was sad and mad.
How could this happen?
Well- it happens all the time. We doubt, we struggle with faith, we grow-- struggle is necessary.
Faith is not easy.
Where is God when bad things happen? Why do there seem to be conflicts within the bible itself?
What do we do with texts that are outside the canon? How do we deal with the really hard texts?
When my husband Kevin when to the Holy Land with several different seminaries, there was one guy on his trip from a Southern Baptist seminary. He kept telling folks that they were going to hell because of one reason or another. He was very upset on this trip because their guide could not tell them exactly where this or that occurred. You cannot find the walls Jericho that fell exactly where the bible said.
WHAT! Okay- so no way that happened? Ummm- really? That's where you're going to go?
That is not faith.
Faith is more than being sure.
Faith is more than touching this and saying yes now I believe.
But it doesn't mean that sometimes we don't want to stand on a firm foundation and know something for sure.
And it doesn't mean that sometimes we can't know for sure.
When Neil Armstrong visited the Holy Land he asked his guide - Where can I go where I know Jesus walked? Not just where "tradition says."
The steps where Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple as a baby. and where Jesus came and knocked over the tables on the very temple steps.
Yes- we want concrete- we want to touch and see.
But there will be doubt and there will be questions and there will be times when we do not know and when we do not have words.
When we do not have words-- the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words
When we do not know- we can actually say I do not know--
When we do not feel the presence of God- what do we do?
I go to the Psalms- especially Psalm 139
I reach out
What makes me so sad about this - is did this woman have someone to reach out to?
Or did she just fall away? And.... not one person noticed?
I often have couples come to me who have already given up-- but never reached out.
They come for "counseling" but not really.
They've given up long ago.
And no one noticed.
Not even them.
Because no one was checking.
No one was talking.
No one was caring.
This always breaks my heart.
Because it didn't have to be this way.
I always wondered- why? If a spouse started to feel distant, felt isolated, felt lonely, felt tempted, felt a loss of interest- why not do something about it?
Is it fear? Is it just too hard to confront?
Or do they just not even notice because they are so checked out already?
But the thing is - this pastor who lost faith did know how she was feeling.
But she felt like there was no one she could talk to.
This makes me sad.
But it also makes me angry.
As a whole- religious institutions - and not just my denomination tend to be pretty bad and helping clergy do self care, spiritual care, and wholeness.
In the article- this former Teresa MacBain responds to a question about how a pastor's life is different than other jobs saying, "Right, it's completely consumed in just the ministry, being on-call 24 hours a day, being surrounded always by colleagues that are ministers, conferences that are ministry-based, being with church members. It becomes - it has to become the whole focal point of your life if you're going to care and pastor the people correctly." (italiticed mine)
This tends to be how some clergy folks think- and its slippery slope.
I feel like this is wrong thinking... and had its core it is egotistical...but most of all it is wrong.
If you think as a pastor you must be everywhere and do everything you have forgotten who are.
You are not Jesus.
Nor are you called to be.
Too often pastors start thinking they have to do it all--why do they think this?
Is it all ego?
Is it the pressure?
Is it just all the stuff they have to do?
(but you only work on one day, right?)
There is the Ordering of the church, visioning, planning,
Worship- preaching, designing worship, writing prayers/ liturgy, organizing and working with all the folks who make worship possible- musicians, volunteers, etc.
Assistance with walk ins
I'm sure I've left out a ton and I could go on....
Yes- there is a lot to do- our calendars are full
(I used to get kind of annoyed at all those folks who used to talk about how crazy their calendar was -- and tell you their schedule-- Kevin and I started calling them "Calendar People" -- its as if they got their worth from how much they were doing and from everyone knowing -- "See Look at me I do a lot" )
I think a lot of pastors are over achievers.
I know I am.
A lot of us may be type A
Some of us may even be micro-managers - and possibly control issues
We may even be perfectionist....
We tend to over function
Perhaps that is is part of the trap... of thinking we have to be going 24-7, be at every meeting or event....
And yes we are on call- but we also do get to sleep and be with our families, and go on vacation, and tend to our souls, and be renewed in continuing ed and study leave and prayer.
Maybe its a little like momma guilt where you are always feeling like you've got to do more, be more?
But whatever it is - and wherever it comes from- its not good.
Its not healthy.
And we need some kind of trip wire that tells us BEEP your getting close to burn out!
When I had my first psychological evaluation- (yes I think I've had 4 - to be sure I'm "crazy enough" for ministry) :)
(don't read mean sarcasm here- I don't do that really- I think it is a very good thing we do this)
Anyway- in this first test- back in 2001 when I was applying to be a missionary in the United Methodist Church- the psychologist said:
"I think if you were in the forest and it was on fire you would say....its getting warm in here."
I needed to learn to ask for help.
This was my "Learning Goal" for time as a missionary- one of them at least.
I didn't do so great my first year as a missionary serving in downtown Detroit. (not with this goal anway)
I averaged working 80 hours a week- sometimes 90.
I worked. A lot.
Because I LOVED my work.
I LOVED everything about it.
And I wanted to serve all the time.
And I didn't have a life.
Other than ministry.
And to me-- that was kind of great- because I couldn't be lonely if I was serving.
And most of the time it didn't wear me out- I thrived and had energy and loved every minute.
Yet people always say, "Oh did you go to the UP (upper peninsula)? Did you to Canada? Did you visit these places x,y,z?"
No- I worked.
A year in, when I got married-- things changed.
Now, my husband came to take me to lunch.
Now, I took my day off.
People would say, "Who do you think you are?"
I'm someone who valued my marriage!
I've had church planters especially recount stories to me- one of a wife who had the kids all dressed in their Sunday best at 10pm instead of being in bed. They were all sitting on the couch with the church planter Dad came home and the wife said, "I want you to meet your children."
We love God and we love ministry and that is why we do this work - because for a lot of us - hopefully most of us- it is not work- it is a call.
A call that we answer and respond to every day-- but a call we respond to without sacrificing ourselves, our families, and our relationship with God.
When I left my being a US-2 missionary after the 2 year commitment I was replaced with two people.
That may seem cool to some folks....
You know, like a bragging point about you're awesome work ethic...
But really- it only is if it beneficial to the church and really to the kingdom if it is sustainable.
Have you created systems that will only keep growing- or does someone have to "maintain it"
Maintaining only leads to doing things that way "because that's just how we do it."
Maintaining requires no vision and only creates busy work.
Maintaining does not build up the kingdom.
Is it about your ego- or the kingdom?
Thankfully things were sustained- but creating more work for the sake of work, for the sake of being needed- not healthy for you or your church.
So this addresses the burn out factor--
But she burnt out on faith...not necessarily ministry.
(In a CNN interview she notes that she still feels compelled to help people- just not as a pastor).
Again - How can this happen?
John Wesley began small group ministry-- but it wasn't some kind of willy nilly group....
They took things seriously
Each we they asked one another: "How is it with your soul?"
They expected an answer.
Who does this for us now?
In the United Methodist church- and in my conference- when you are commissioned as a Provisional Elder or Deacon (after you've completed papers, psych eval, and passed the Board of Ordination) - you are placed in a covenant group and a mentor and you meet monthly and you write papers, and you do continuing education, and you meet with your DS (District Superintendent), and you have a certain level of accountability. This is for 3 years. Then you write papers again and take another psych eval and you go before the Board of Ordained Ministry and you are Ordained.
Then...you are released - you are out there--
supervision, accountability, fall to your DS and/or your setting where you are.
So what happens then?
You were in this space of accountability - which for some may have felt safe and good and a place of growing and sharing and grace and love- and for others unfortunately it feels like "jumping through hoops" (a term I disdain-- b/c if you think that it will feel like that)
Abraham Lincoln said, "If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will."
Well I kind of feel that way about the United Methodist process....
SO anyway- you're out of the process- you're ordained! Yay!
It can feel like a parachute drop.
No longer must you be in a covenant group.
No one is checking now....
Some may say- good - Freedom!
But accountability is a good thing-
It means someone is watching and it does actually mean - YES - someone cares.
How many times has a parishioner said to a pastor--
"I left such and such church.... I stopped going...and no one noticed..."
Some people only talk to their DS if they have a problem.
I guess that's like a 911 prayer...
Who asks you - how is it with your soul?
Who prays with you daily?
Who do you check in with?
Unless you're the type of person to readily create this for yourself- you're out of luck.
If you read the NPR transcript, this pastor turned atheist actually did email something to her DS... and it seems like nothing happened.This makes me very sad. Yes- I do not know the full situation, and I am really struggling with not judging this. Mainly it just makes me sad that on the day of her last Sunday she shared this with her congregation and that was it. I imagine what could have been. Could her DS have been there- prayed for her and her congregation. Could they have lamented this as a community of faith either that day or another day in some kind of Healing Service? Could her DS have said- I am sorry you feel this way and I will be in prayer for you. (And not some condescending "I'll pray for your poor soul") but real, loving prayer. The whole dynamic could have been different. Instead Christians just looked unloving...
In CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) I heard a great thing-
The Dr goes in with training, having read books, articles, but most importantly having kept up on latest treatments, meds, etc.
The nurse goes in with the meds, checking your vitals, the nurse must review things often to keep up with latest needs
The technician goes in to the room with a machine that has been tested thoroughly several times a day/week.
The chaplain/pastor goes in with their soul -- has it kept up, checked in, and been thoroughly checked for deficits?
If we are not well in our own soul- we will not be able to share the Gospel or care for others- we will not be able to show the way to the kingdom because we ourselves are lost.
Recently, we have learned that Mother Teresa had moments of doubt-- or maybe not even doubt, but times when she could not readily know for sure where God was....
And the Church thought that should be hidden...
That's our problem-- we think we can't talk about this stuff-
We think people can't handle it?
Really? Are we really that patronizing? Are we really so closed minded? SO condescending?
So ego filled that we think we have to have it all together?
Do we think we've reached perfection?
Because we haven't.
We are onward toward-- we aren't there yet.
But if I quote from Bill Hybels from his book "Too Busy Not to Pray" some folks will listen to this more than if I quote from Roberta Bondi's "To Pray and To Love."
This pastor turned atheist perhaps wasn't too busy not to pray- perhaps she just had doubts... perhaps she just got so isolated from God, from others, that she fell back.
And she fell into the arms of evangelical atheists ready to receive her.
You may ask is that for real?
Yes- I believe so.
I do not think they are vicious or mean spirited, but I think some may have been hurt by Christians and lump all Christians together and are more than happy to reach out to a new sister/ brother in non faith and rejoice with them in what they deem as the truth.
I do feel like this has darkness in it. Because I feel like it seeks to rejoice in hope stealing.
To tell someone-yep, you're right - you're on your own- nothing matters.... yes there may be morality and good people-- but to me there is no core- no hope- no one there when it all stops-no purpose- no reason.
To tell someone this- is very sad.
To me it is as sad as a Christian who tells someone struggling, doubting, or unsure-- "You better stop that" or "You can't struggle, ask questions, doubt, etc."
I'm sure an evangelical atheist would be happy to debate me.
I'm sure Bart Ehrman and others who seek to "debunk" faith would be more than happy to do this.
There are so many who grew up in a fundamentalist faith and had to have it be this very literal way - and if its not that... its nothing--- and when they start asking some basic questions... it all falls apart.
But again- that was not faith- that was a carefully constructed logic theorem of "if this, than that"
Faith isn't logical
Faith is for folks crazy enough to take 4 psychological exams and keep going.
Faith isn't concrete and it will not always make sense.
The cross does not make sense.
Any "faith" that wants to tell you you can do it on your own if you just try hard enough, if you just defend strong enough, if you just work hard, or if it all you need is just you and its all inside of you-- is false.
Faith is bigger than me or you or anything else in all creation--
but none of that will separate us from God.
but we keep at it.
When we do not believe- we say, Lord Help my unbelief.
When we cannot pray- the spirit intercedes.
When we do not know- we find someone who can help us.
Here is what I believe we must do-
We must ask "How is it with your soul?"
and mean it.
We must care about one another more than we care about how much the other pastor down the street makes, or how many folks are in their pews, or what are they doing to get people in the door that we aren't doing, or our fear that they will steal our prospective members.
Fear is not part of faith. How many times did God say, "Do not fear"?
I think that one bears repeating:
We must care more about our fellow clergy than we do about
money, numbers, popularity, or power.
We must be more collegial than competitive-
but more than that-
We must care. Really care.
We must remind one another of who we are and whose we are.
Do you know how I know a couple will make it when I do premarital counseling?
(hopefully they won't all read this and give the "right answer" :)
When I ask them- what they love most about this other person?
They say, "S/he makes me want to be the best me I can be--
they bring out the best me when I am with them."
We should do this for one another in ministry.
(Its really worth it to read all of this)
Perhaps this will make us more effective.
I have no doubt it will.
But we do not do it because "it will make us more effective"
Faith and faithful living as a disciple of Christ is not a means to an end
We do it because it will keep us abiding in Christ.
We do this because he first loved us. See 1 John 4:7-21
We do this because it is the Way of wholeness, healing, grace, mercy.
We do this because it is how we live in Faith, Hope, and Love.
And do you know what just may happen?
We may find safe spaces to finally be real.
We couldn't, didn't, refused, struggled, (fill in the blank) do this at General Conference.
We couldn't even be authentic enough to say we agree that we don't always agree.
We lived in fear, and competition, and anxiety.
Which is darkness only breeding hate and pain.
and we need healing.
We need to touch- we need to grab hold of Jesus.
We're doubting and we need to touch the pain of the cross to really understand.
Thomas said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
Faith and believing can be hard. It means touching pain and dealing with it.
We're running on empty and we look around and say we don't have enough.
End the fallout.
Stop the burnout.
How is it with your soul?
Light the Fire in your soul
What we really need to do, what we really can do (with the help of one another)- is come to Christ.
Abide, love, touch, reach in, gather around, share with one another...
and be loved, live in love, be nourished, full, healed, whole.