I just want to state, for the record, that I have the best job in the world.
It seems I can’t go a week without some contact on social media sharing yet another article explaining why being an ordained minister is such a difficult job. And to be fair, there are lots of reasons pastoring a church is not for the faint-hearted. Churches are full of broken, hurting people, and it’s the clergy’s job to minister to them and to help bear their burdens -- and some of those burdens are doozies.
Yes, it can be very tiring. And sometimes lonely. And frustrating. Our failures tend to be very public, and our successes private. There’s constant exposure to the harshest realities of life, and the job refuses to stay within tidy boundaries.
All of this is true. But it’s true for a lot of people in a lot of fields. I don’t suppose my job is really that much harder than that of teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers and social workers, who deal with many of the same challenges, often with less respect. And my job doesn’t include many of the less pleasant aspects of theirs -- I am hardly ever expected to clean up vomit, for example.
Yes, sometimes I have to deal with someone who’s angry about a change I’ve made or something I’ve said. I have to deal with people who make it personal, and who may threaten my job if I don’t give them what they want. But sitting in the pews are retail clerks and waitresses who have had to bear the brunt of a customer’s wrath over something that wasn’t their fault -- and who probably got stiffed on a commission or a tip to boot.
Yes, I’ve been out until 2 a.m. after spending hours in the emergency room with a desperately ill parishioner, and driven home exhausted. But the guy who does tech support for the multinational firm was up just as late trying to solve a critical customer problem, and he’ll probably end up doing it again tomorrow night.
Yes, I am sometimes the only person in the world entrusted with hurting, broken people’s deepest griefs and greatest burdens. And yes, I worry about them, and I carry those burdens alone, because to share them would be to violate the precious trust they’ve placed in me. But the psychologist, the addiction counselor, and the social worker in the congregation know just as many secrets and are just as much alone.
Yes, I am regularly called upon to sit with the dying and comfort the grieving. But I almost never do it alone. I am joined by hospice workers, doctors, nurses, and funeral home directors who are kind and compassionate and who see to the mundane details of death with grace and patience. After the funeral, I will turn my attention to planning the next week’s baptism or getting ready for a preschool celebration, while those I ministered alongside meet another grieving family and start the process all over again.
Yes, sometimes my sermons flop, and I spend all week stewing over what I should have said instead. But that’s nothing compared to the politician or local town official who says something ill-considered and is castigated in the media and the local coffee shop all week, or the middle-manager who blows the big presentation and loses the company’s most important client.
And those are just the hard parts of my job. There are also days when I’m called to the hospital to hold a newborn baby. I get to be part of the happiest moments in people’s lives, presiding at weddings and baptisms. There are days when I rock the sermon, and people pause as they walk out the door to shake my hand and say, “Great sermon! Thank you! ”
I get invited to lunch and to tea, and small children offer to let me hold their favorite stuffed animals or ask to sit on my lap. Little old ladies hug me and tell me how very, very happy they are that I am part of their church. People bake me banana bread and mince pies, and send home cookies from coffee hour for my teenage children.
I preside at the Eucharist week after week, welcoming God and lifting up the deepest longings of the people gathered around the Table. I reassure the penitent of God’s forgiveness, the lost of God’s love for them, and the frightened of God’s protection and care. I get to pray for those in need, and hear the stories of healing and hope that so often follow.
I tell stories of miraculous rescue, long-awaited return, and never-ending love to small children and harried parents and weary elders. I help people wrestling with hard truths and difficult realities to deepen their understanding and come to know God better. Every now and then, the Holy Spirit uses me for healing and wholeness and comfort and strength for others in ways that leave me gasping with gratitude and awe.
I have the best job in the world. I am so unbelievably blessed to have been called to this work. I cannot express my gratitude to have the opportunity day after day to be part of what God is doing in all these places, the beautiful and the ugly, the hard and the holy.
Yes, sometimes I get tired and depressed and frustrated. I’m only human, after all, and sometimes the hard things are very hard indeed. Sometimes the burdens are very heavy. But that’s true for all of us, which is probably why St. Paul once wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I try to remember the advice of Colossians: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”
There is so very much to be thankful for, and I hope all of us blessed to be pastors and priests will try to remember that even on -- or maybe especially on -- the days when it’s hard.