Confessions of a Pastor
It’s been over two years since I woke up feeling rested. I know. Some of that is American culture. It is just how we live. But that is not how I want to live. Biblically, that is not how we should live.
On Pastor Appreciation Month, I thought it would be good to give you some insights into the life of a pastor. I am an Energizer Bunny personality. I go and go and go. In ministry, it never feels quite like enough is enough. There is always one more vital need that requires time and attention. Add that to “you can only be hurt by what you care about” and you have a potentially toxic mixture. Pastors care about ministry. They care about that next vital need being met. When that doesn’t happen, there is pain and a sense of failure.
For two months, I could feel it coming. There was a heaviness and a frustration of life that told me I needed some time off. I tried to build into my schedule extra days off, and I did take some extra time. But there was always “one little thing” that I found to be a permissible violation of my “day off.” For whatever reason, a day here and a day there was not getting the job done.
About two weeks ago, the people closest to me were feeling it. I was generally negative and grumpy with my wife. I struggled with depression. I could sense that the pressures were starting to have an impact my health. Others close to me revealed that they felt like I was mad at them. As I looked at the signs, I knew something had to be done. I had to find a way to take a break, and not just for a day or two.
In ministry, it is a day after day pounding. There are no weekends. There are no holidays. Working with drug addicts and alcoholics, holidays simply ratchet up the need for ministry. Holidays are their toughest time which means that in addition to connecting with my family and caring for the church, I need to be almost continuously available to help them through their toughest time. In my world, holiday weekends are exhausting.
So I take a few days off to compensate for the holiday and what I hear is “pastor is on vacation.” I feel guilty because I am not in ministry. Or I feel lazy because I should be doing something. And then there is even some resentment because people will joke about me taking time off when it’s generally more like a day or at most two following a holiday that they took off. I feel frustrated, rehearsing to myself that what they call “a vacation” is a pattern of time off for almost every other person. And on top of that, the vast majority of the time, my days off get violated in some way!
I know. I am ranting. It is my problem. I also know that many people are actually encouraging me to get rest and to take needed time off, but because of who I am and what I care for, I often hear something different. I care about doing a good job. I hope to both bless and satisfy the people that I minister to, so I allow small comments to create large areas of pain. That pain tells me that I shouldn’t take time off. I also know that these “thoughts” are a lie from the enemy and that I need to cast them away and to obey God by taking my times of rest … without feeling guilty.
For me, not dealing well with these issues meant that it had been two years since I woke up feeling rested. Cumulative stress had meant that my vacation times had largely consisted of sleeping. Even after a full week of a relatively comatose time of vacation last spring, I returned without being fully ready to go. That is not good. As I surveyed my current condition, I realized I needed to make time off happen. Now. And that I needed to stay there until I woke up feeling rested. Both of those were tall orders, but to honor God, I needed to do them. And I also need to change how I live once I get back to a life in ministry!
It is Pastor Appreciation Month. The greatest need for most pastors is some kind of a break. Yes, there are a few lazy pastors who are not driven by caring for people. But most who are in ministry are in ministry because they care. I hope this blog will give you some new insights into the pastoral world and how to be sensitive to what a pastor experiences. I encourage each and every church to find a quality way of saying “thank you” to your pastoral staff. It is much needed!