My therapist told me something last week that blew my mind. The Hebrew word rafa that gets translated as “Be still” in the famous Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” can also be translated to mean “Let it fall.” Those two phrases are so utterly different in their connotation. For a neurotic like me, “Be still” is the one thing that’s almost impossible for me to do, so it always feels shaming to hear it.
But “let it fall” is very different. “Let it fall” is exactly the permission I need as someone whose greatest fear is to let things fall, shatter, and create a mess all over the floor. My life in ministry tends to feel like a nightmare in which I’m trying to balance an insanely tall stack of extremely breakable plates while wearing roller skates on a floor that’s been rubbed down in Crisco. My anxiety about not letting anything fall is the root of my dysfunction; it’s the reason I keep adding plates to the stack.
The hardest thing about my job is not the hours I actually put into work. It’s the weight of all the balls I’ve dropped. Every day I walk through a metaphorical Little League outfield of dropped balls. I see students who were promising prospects the first two weeks of their freshman year but now we can’t even make eye contact because we’ve both forgotten each other’s names. I remember that I still haven’t followed through on migrating our ministry’s monthly donors from Patreon which charges 9% to Donorbox which charges nothing for the first $1000 a month. I recall that I haven’t organized any intergenerational potluck and game nights where local church people can mix and mingle with our students and start to care about campus ministry. Because I didn’t get out the invitations to our annual homecoming brunch far enough in advance, our RSVP count is pitifully low.
What’s exhausting is not the actual workload itself but the weight of all the should haves, all the missed opportunities. Perhaps it’s because I’m watching an agonizing World Series as a Houston Astros fan, but my life feels like a baseball game where every run counts permanently and I just get further and further behind because I’ve struck out so many times and the other team keeps hitting grand slams. And it doesn’t reset every 9 innings. The game just keeps going year after year and the spread in the score just gets wider and wider.I keep thinking that each particular year is going to be the breakthrough year when we finally have enough synergy to start to build a thriving spiritual community. I keep thinking I’ve finally got the new plan that’s going to get better results. And then inevitably something happens to sabotage our hopes.
But what if I’m allowed to actually let things fall? What if the fact that I didn’t do the 10 things that I should have done six months ago doesn’t always have to hang over me in the present moment? It’s pretty scary to let things fall. I’m in a role where paradoxically and hypocritically, I preach about the importance of living under grace and trusting in God, and then I make myself hyper-responsible for the choices of my students. I’ve found that some students simply will not come to our worship gatherings without a reminder text message a few hours before that I have to send every week. I’ve even found that paid cafe workers who have a routine weekly meeting with me need a reminder text from me for them to actually show up.
Hyper-responsibility is exhausting. The reason I’m hyper-responsible is because I am ultimately the one who bears the weight of the consequences of my students’ choices. If they don’t show up, that measures my “fruitfulness” as a pastor. So really the only way to let it fall is to stop caring about the data.
I can honestly say that almost all of the mistakes I’ve made in college ministry were a direct result of my anxiety about my results. Every time I have been overly pushy, awkward, abrasive, or otherwise emanated unattractive nervous energy, it’s been because of my fear that we weren’t going to make it. I’m not sure what it means to make it, but I’ve finally accepted that I’m not going to have the conventional success story that I see other campus ministers describe in their fundraising pamphlets.
Right now, our worship attendance rates are about half of what they were last year (despite the fact that we have more active freshmen in worship than in previous years). The reasons are circumstantial and complicated, but all that the bean counters will see when I share the data is a red flag that declares my ineffectiveness. About a month ago, I was terrified for any of my superiors to find that out, and I was spinning various narratives for explaining it. But I’m done with that fear. I’m done with hiding the truth. I’m done putting on a performance. I’m letting it fall. I’m calling God out on his promise that he will show me he is God if I do that.