I have a confession (maybe this entry should be in the forum section of Pooped Pastors), I secretly hate the entire youth staff at our church. Let me explain. You would never suspect this by my behavior. I am a supporter of the youth program and in some real ways I appreciate and even pray for all the youth staff. It’s just that I have been trying to effectively reach my sons for a lifetime. Along comes this team of too cool youth workers who have known my kids for only a few years and my kids will follow them anywhere. I make a suggestion which is ignored; one of these “Johnny come latelys” says the same thing and my son thinks it is profound. Where was the youth staff when I was scraping vomit off my sleeve with a spatula, taking my sons out to “man town”, or getting eaten by mosquitoes lying on the trampoline with my sons at night?
Wow, that seems angry.
The problem is that I also love our youth pastor. I thank God that there is someone speaking to my kids about truth. I have prayed for other adult Christians to influence my kids. Do you think the youth staff and maybe even my own kids can sense my ambivalence? (I’m getting tired just writing this down. Holding two competing ideas in your soul at the same time will exhaust you.)
My hope in this entry is not to come clean about my incongruent emotions about our youth staff, no, my hope is to speak to the issue of tiredness. A few entries ago I suggested that maybe our tiredness was a symptom of a problem and not the real issue. Last time I suggested that understating your internal wiring (and the natural tendencies of others around you) would help alleviate your tiredness. In this entry I would like to explore the issue of incongruence.
God often reminds us in scripture that we will reap what we sow. Certain fruit tress will consistently produce certain fruit. Jesus’ hardest words were reserved for individuals who lived one way on the inside and very differently to the outer world. He compared them to white washed tombs. The lack of congruence has the long term effect of exhaustion. First of all—all of us struggle with some incongruence. My most common prayer is “God let me become the man I pretend I am”. No one on this side of heaven is completely free from the reality of our own inconsistencies and sins – it’s just that God takes them seriously. The greater the discrepancy between the real and fake, between our condition and our calling, and between our internal and external, the greater our tiredness will be.
How will this play itself out? For some the place of incongruence is a secret habitual sin. The secret use of porn or the over reliance on a prescription drug are examples of hidden areas which may be causing great exhaustion as you try to live out your calling to pastor and struggle unsuccessfully against a habitual sin. You will notice that you are becoming less vulnerable and more cynical. Yet, not all incongruities are sin. For example, doubt about your faith is not sin. This is a hard one for pastors –after all, we are professional Christians. How can I doubt-and more honesty what will I do-for a living if I do not believe. Doubt about our faith then becomes buried and our faith becomes wooden and stiff. We only speak about our problems in the distant past tense. God is not afraid of your doubt or your honest questions… we are the ones who are afraid.
Another place of incongruence is found in secret plans to leave your church (or our family) and find another church or even a different profession. Over the years I have found pastors to be notorious for conjuring up fantasy jobs and careers. I know pastors who spend hours each week combing the listings but never applying for a different position. They are actively building one ministry while they are actively dreaming of another. This is very common in church ministry or any other position that is so relationally and politically charged. Yet, if you do not admit it, you will feel double minded and that tension will manifest itself in fatigue, anger or irritation. I don’t think Jesus was kidding when he said the truth will set you free – just be careful where you tell all the truth. Recently a pastor told me about his hidden fantasy that his wife of ten years would die in a car accident (of course he would never leave her) and he could pursue his old college sweetheart. I bet his wife can sometimes sense the ambivalence.
Please do not believe your own hype – we are all scared. We all have fears. Everyone feels lost and lonely at times. God will meet you in all of this if you seek him. Maybe the reason He invites us to live in the tension of the “already but not yet” is that it produces a bit of incongruence that invites you to be more dependent upon Him.
The common solution for competing ideas is to compartmentalize or become numb. If you compartmentalize, the anger or doubt becomes locked away in a hidden room. It may manifest itself in your life with a tough attitude or actions, yet many people live very compartmentalized lives. The problem is that it takes significant energy to keep everything locked away in separated places. You live your life like the kid in the swimming pool trying to hold two beach balls under water at the same time. You can do it but it’s hard to enjoy the swim. It will exhaust you.
The other common strategy with incongruence is to be numb – after all, you feel kind of crazy that you both hate and love your job. No one wants to feel that tension – so we try to feel nothing. We all know stories (from our own lives) and see them in the news about people who have been caught in a behavior that they had outwardly strongly opposed. Allowing locked, hidden rooms in our minds or attempting to just numb the problem can produce that kind of behavior.
So how do I deal with this and maybe even find some peace?
First of all, do NOT confess all your incongruence in your next sermon. It might be your best sermon ever but it may also be your last. Find a safe place to tell the truth. Start with a friend (not the head of the elder board), an old college friend from seminary days, a spouse or a counselor. The negative power to make you tired is in the keeping of the secrets. Satan has a vested interest in keeping you quiet, lonely and tired. I am not just talking about secret sins, I am including benign secrets. How you feel about church leadership, how you feel about the youth pastor who is trying to make you look bad and how you feel about the slow movement in your own spiritual life. The most important conversation about your incongruence should happen with God. You are not alone in this, you have good company. One third of the Psalms are laments and the writer often sounds crazy. He is ranting at the beginning of a Psalm and yet at the end he is praising God. Maybe real praise begins with sorrow and confusion. Maybe a prerequisite for new and strong faith is confusion and confession.
Jesus did not die on the cross, and shed his precious blood so we could pretend. So dump your bucket – first to him (just be willing to sit and listen to what God might have for you). Then share it with others when it is the loving thing to do.
I need to finish this blog; I have a meeting in a few minutes with the youth committee at church. Thanks to my confession here I am looking forward to going.
Next time we will continue our series on “what is your tiredness telling you” by talking about perfectionism.