I wish I could tell you who I sat with last weekend. I wish I could share each of their stories so you would feel what I do about them. I wish you could fully understand where they came from and where they are going. But instead I’ll tell you this.
Last weekend I sat in a circle with ministers and their spouses on a retreat. I did not want to be there. Sharing circles are not my bag. Being an introvert, spending the weekend with people I don’t know who tearfully pour their heart out and then stare at me expectantly waiting for my reciprocal soul bearing sounds like a complete and utter nightmare. I admitted openly to the group that I ate cold turkey a few days previous in the hopes of developing food poisoning. I’m not joking. I did not want to be there with these mystery people forcing me to talk. I was judgemental from the start. I assumed most would be southern. And let’s be real, most southerners take a good five years before they are authentic with you. I went in ready to cross my arms and roll my eyes.
Enter my husband who would not stop bugging me about it for months…years even. Last weekend has been in the works for years. We had been invited three separate times over the last four years, and it was me that refused to sit in the share circle of lonely death each time. I am sorry for that, now.
I went. I, begrudgingly and heels dug-in deep, went. And I am changed.
What I heard from the mouths of ministers who serve the church:
- I heard stories of loss. Loss that I wouldn’t make it through. Loss that would send me to my grave.
- I heard stories of betrayal. Betrayals that angered me and lit a fire within my soul all for the sake of people that I didn’t know.
- I heard stories of broken hearts and abandonment.
- I heard stories of ego crushing self-doubt and spiritual confusion.
- I heard stories of wayward children who have yet to come home.
The stories were rich and painful and beautiful. Some had happy endings. Some were still trapped in the throws of conflict. And some will find no resolution.
These people in the circle, their lives full of adventure and stories worth writing about, all could have chosen to walk away from God. They could have chosen to leave their churches many many MANY times, but they didn’t. They remain steadfast to the reason for all hope. They remain faithful and resolute to the calling by the One greater than us all.
That is the lesson.
So many in ministry walk away from the call. Some are forced out due to moral failure. Others simply are work-worn and tired. Here’s the clincher: Most of us are work-worn and tired. But we press on faithful to one who won’t abandon, who won’t betray, who won’t die. We press on because the work needs to be done and there are so many souls out there who need to see what redemption and grace and love truly look like.
So, while there are churches out there who would raise an eyebrow at the pain and trials of ministers, and while some scoundrels who call themselves believers would wonder if God is punishing us for our poor theology and errant church branding or label, I say to you, minister, press on. Press on to the prize and hold on to your calling.
As for me, I have a few new friends and facebook connections. I have a few more stories in my pocket of transformation, grace, and triumph. I will cling to those stories on my difficult days.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33