When we talk about grief, we often speak of it in terms of letting go, moving on, and getting over it. People want to know when they will be back to normal. But the loss of a loved one is not a bump in the road that we go over and then the pavement is smooth again. Grief fundamentally changes who we are.
I love weddings. I even like the parts pastors aren’t supposed to enjoy—the flowers, dresses, hair, and make-up. People have their heads full of Kate Middleton, as they dreamed of being a princess for the day. They ended up pouring a fortune into a ceremony that could easily morph a simple religious ceremony into a frenzied, commercialized ball of stress.
I was talking about an author I admire and Brian, my husband, asked, “Her writing’s great and all, but who’s she bringing up?”
I knew what he meant. He wanted to know who was riding her coattails. Who were the people she was encouraging to write and helping along the process? I named a couple of people, and he nodded with satisfaction.
I went on a walk along the bay in Rhode Island. It was the path I took daily, so I was sure footed and looking at the horizon, until I almost stumbled upon an animal corpse. I’m not sure what it was. It was so bloated and distorted—spots of brownish gray fur, the size of a small dog but with much tinier legs. It smelled of warm rot and I became immediately afraid.
A friend was going to seminary, and she became very disappointed that someone in her home church did not send her a birthday card. When I heard this story, I thought that the congregation probably did her a favor, because it’s good to know that there are a lot of things that the church cannot do for you once you become a pastor.
A few blocks away from where I live, there’s a lovely green space. Renaissance Park is a revived bit of Chattanooga along the Tennessee River. There’s a walking tour that you can take, where you call a phone number and hear the history of the place.
Oscar Wilde once said that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. I often see great truth in Wilde’s musings. For example, from the hard-hitting reporters of YouTube’s All Time 10s, we find out television screenwriters imagined many inventions before scientists and techies could design them.
The bifurcation of the agreed-upon version of life has an extra layer of meaning for me. Not only did it help me to understand what is happening as a parent, but it’s helping me with my own story-telling, as a daughter.
I wonder if pastors use alcohol because we don’t always have the space to express those core emotions in healthy ways. I wonder if we feel like we have to bear everyone else’s burdens, so we don’t have room for our own. Or when we talk to other pastor friends about our frustrations, they come back at us with well-meaning, awkward platitudes, which quietly indicate that we’re not really allowed to have those sorts of feelings.
There are a lot of scrappers out there, who use their wits and entrepreneurial vigor to live into their calling. Seminary students are increasingly being asked to be innovative, bi-vocational, and create their own calls. With the decrease in the number of stable positions, it’s important that we train apostles and tent-makers as well as pastors.
While I welcomed people with open arms, I also had a lurching gut. Because as much as I wanted to pat myself on the back and believe that they would be utterly free of disappointment, I knew that they wouldn’t. I would mess up. The church would let them down. Sooner or later, they would find out that they exchanged one set of issues for another.
The workplace responds differently to the ways women work, and especially when it comes to staying late and helping others. This is particularly true for our work in the church. Being a pastor can be a helping profession in the most beautiful sort of way. We are servant-leaders. But for many women, having a servant’s heart can undermine what we’re trying to accomplish as leaders.