I have not spent too many moments of these ten ordained years living life as one colleague described, “listening to the music.”
Not the way he describes it, anyway.
When I think about it, the “music” I hear most often is a cacophony made up of staff meetings, suggestions for improving the snacks in coffee hour, hymns that no one knows after all, all of these most times underscored, frankly, by the beat of tense silence or unnamed disapproval.
But, that’s not it, my colleague said. Life has a melody, cadence and rhythm, he explained, and it isn’t made up of complaints about the sermons. It’s beautiful. And you should know, he said: if you can’t hear that music, you’re too busy.
I confess: I used to listen to pastors talk about the breathless pace they lived and the price they paid for doing their jobs and think to myself something (admittedly totally arrogant and ignorant) along the lines of: “Too bad they’ve lost their passion for ministry. That will never happen to me . . . . I’m sure if they just learned to manage their time better they would be fine. I’m sure if they loved God enough it wouldn’t be this way.” Okay, honestly, I hope I didn’t actually think (or say, God forbid!) those things, but I’ll admit the general impression was there. I knew I was different, you see, because, well, because I was a really hard worker and because I was smart and because I really wanted to serve God.
Guess what? Turns out all of them are really smart, hard workers who wanted to serve God, too. They just got so caught up in their work that they couldn’t hear the music anymore, and it just snuck right up on them before they even realized it was happening.
There are real, administrative and structural reasons for this, of course. The pastor in most churches is often expected to be all things to all people-you know, prophetic in the pulpit and hard-hitting in committee meetings and sweet to difficult church members, too. The problem that we seem to encounter after living the life of pastoral ministry for awhile is, as Eugene Peterson puts it, religiosa sollicitudo pro Deo, which sounds rather like a painful disease but actually means “a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.”
Oops! We forgot we were just assistants. We forgot the end result is not our responsibility. We forgot that we’re not God.
Here’s the cold, hard truth. When we go through life furiously trying to do God’s work for him we fail, first of all, since I personally have never even looked over the work of one week and sighed with the satisfaction that everything’s done. Worse, no matter how hard we try we just can’t seem to make everybody happy (can you imagine?)!
Secondly, when we work so hard to take care of everything for God, we wake up one day to realize that we were too busy to actually live the practice of depending on God and have become, as Eugene so painfully puts it: “parasites on the first-hand spiritual lives of others.” In other words, it’s sort of like we’ve paddled out to the middle of the lake and we’re stuck (we were so busy we forgot we should never be out there alone!). It’s awfully hard to hear the music from the middle of the lake.
Waking up to see the cold hard truth makes you realize, as my colleague said, that you can’t hear the music. In fact, even when you listen really hard, you can’t even hear strains of it off in the distance. And sometimes you even start to wonder: was there ever any music playing at all . . . or was that just my imagination?
So I’ve been wondering on this start of a new year, what will it take for me to hear the music this year?
Here’s what I know and resolve.
I know I cannot be everything that everyone expects me to be. (Lots of hours of spiritual direction behind that one, let me tell you.) Just can’t. So, it’s my job to survey the many facets of my pastoral vocation and find the ones that bring me joy. After all, if you can’t get it all done anyway, might as well choose to do the things that feed your soul. What are those things? Here are mine: study, reading, prayer, writing, sermon-preparation, worship planning. Life is too short to live without joy. Joy, joy, joy: I will seize every possible opportunity to hear the music that sings in my soul.
I know my schedule is a rabid animal I cannot seem to contain, no matter how hard I try. Every time I think I have it sitting calmly, tail wagging I look away for a minute and all hell has broken loose. Everybody needs me . . . but really, could it be that I need everybody to need me? The thing is (lots of hours of spiritual direction behind this one, too): the world will not come to an end if I don’t jump at every call. The lovely thing about pastoral ministry is that a lot of the things we’re called on to do are nice things . . . but even nice things can drown out the music. I’m going to try again to build a cage around my rabid animal of a schedule so that it reflects what I say I value: God, my family, my work of prayer and study, my pastoral response to crisis. And that’s about it. Because when I start adding everything else I could be doing then I can’t even pause to try to listen to the music, even if I could hear it.
I know if I will be a faithful pastor to this church I need to listen intently for the music and then move to the beat of that music so God’s people at Calvary will know how to listen, too. Calvary is in such a great and hopeful place. For years this congregation has been working on changing a paradigm and living prophetically in this city. With the construction done and new members joining regularly that is coming to be. It’s not triage so much anymore. It’s time to hear the music as it swells to beautiful crescendo.
This year, I resolve: to choose work that gives my soul life and brings me joy.
This year, I resolve: to live a schedule that honors what I love most.
This year, I resolve: to put the religiosa sollicitudo pro Deo behind me so my community of faith can, too.
This year, I resolve: to listen to the music.