Leaving: Loneliness (an epilogue)

"Leaving" is a series of blog posts having to do with my process of transitioning out of my first call and into a new call; leaving St. Timothy Lutheran (Naperville, IL) and moving to First Lutheran (Decorah, IA).

I thought about adding this post to the end of my previous post, and then decided that it needed a post all its own.

I'm talking about loneliness, again. But different than yesterday's post, I want to talk about the heart of this transition-bred loneliness. Because I think I might have accidentally put my finger on why, exactly, the transition from one church to another feels particularly lonely. I say that I "accidentally" put my finger on it, because I wasn't actually thinking about the topic at all, and was just catching up on reading blog posts in my Google Reader feed.

I read Nadia Bolz-Weber's sermon from this past Sunday on spiritual gifts and the body of Christ, entitled "Sermon on Spiritual Gifts (which, unfairly, doesn't include snarkiness)". And it's a great sermon that talks all about how we need each other's gifts, and even somebody else's gifts of faith, when we don't have them ourselves, and the way that following Christ means being part of a community where people can rely on each other's gifts. Near the end, she says,
This ended up being one of my more difficult weeks in recent memory and I found myself having no choice but to rely on the prayers and faith and wisdom and compassion of those brothers and sisters in Christ whom God has put in my life – because frankly I was tapped out. Which is hard because I’d so rather have all the gifts myself and not have to rely on others. But when it feels like a failure on my part that I don’t have the faith or compassion or prayer life or wisdom that I need, I just have to remember that the only real failure is when I fail to recognize that I do actually have all the faith and compassion and prayer and wisdom I need – it’s just that someone else in my life is holding it for me.
So here's the catch. When you are a pastor, you care for communities of faith. And all the rule books (and all common sense) says that no matter how close you grow to the people whom you serve, you are never quite their "friends" for real, and since you as pastor are caring for the community, it's not really right or good for you to lean on the congregation to care for you in the same way.

What it means is that all these feelings I have about my transition - I can't share them with people in my current congregation, or people in my new congregation.

The congregation can hold and lift up other members in its midst, but it cannot be the place where I, the pastor, look to be held and lifted up. I mean, I can't and shouldn't and wouldn't burden a congregation member with all of the struggles of starting at a new church, or all of the nitty-gritty details of leaving and moving, or even open up about the long and thoughtful discernment process that led me even consider a new call.

And in a time of transition, especially, I can't even look to my fellow staff members (here or there!) to hold me and lift me and carry me through this, because they need to be faithful to their ministries and congregations more than they need to babysit my transition. (Life lesson: life might have been easier right now if I'd ever actually gone out and found myself a spiritual director at some point in this first call.)

So here's the thing. I'm not complaining about my situation (even if it sounds like it). I don't regret or resent the healthy boundaries that leave me across the fence from being swept up and carried along by a congregation.

But I think that I have (finally) put my finger on the root of the loneliness that I feel in this transition. It's peculiar to pastors and those in similar positions, I think. It reflects the difficulty (and necessity) of finding support systems out beyond yourself and your congregation. The transition is lonely because you really walk it on your own.

And you hope, on the other side, to be stronger for it.

1 comment:

  1. This does sound like a difficult place to be in. But remember that you have friends who are entirely removed from the situation with whom you can discuss these things. Who may even be eager to hear your thoughts (especially re: "the long and thoughtful discernment process that led me even consider a new call")!

    So GChat me sometime. :) In the meanwhile, I continue to hold you in my thoughts.