I’ve been thinking about something for quite some time now but have struggled to put in down into physical words. Without good explanation it can become a sticky subject. For years I’ve also feared that wherever I am and whatever I am doing when I write this will be looked at as the subject of what I want to say. The truth is that it’s a theory and observation accumulated over several years. It doesn’t involve any one person and is a mix of all the places, ministries, people, and churches I’ve worked with and for. It’s pieces of a puzzle gathered a bit from here and a bit from there to create a picture that I believe I can finally label. I want to talk about it now, but I want to make sure everyone knows I am not thinking and speaking of any particular person here. (For instance, the missionary I currently live with has nothing to do with much of what I’m about to say. Please know that!)
Missionaries. Pastors. Laymen in ministry. We all know them. We are all connected to them. We ARE them. With my travels and adventures working for various churches, pastors, missionaries, and leaders in ministry, I have seen a thread that runs deep through most of the situations I’ve been in. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t exactly been where I have. But it’s important to understand….
Isolation. Lack of proper accountability. Unintentional neglect because they’re out of sight. The assumption that because they’re in some form of ministry they are healthy, honest, ethical, strong, and don’t need our listening ear, shoulder to collapse on, or the chance to be a mess and fall apart sometimes. When you’re knee-deep in ministry, you carry the burden of whatever heavy issue you work in on your shoulders and after years that gets heavy. I have seen missionaries who are tired, worn by years of living in cultures that aren’t theirs, over-burdened with the issues they wade through. Even jaded. Feeling that they’ve given up having anything at all in the world and all the work has barely made a dent and does anybody at home really understand? I’ve seen good intentions turn into something unethical over time. And other missionaries who truly feel they can’t say or do anything about it. Which builds up on the inside until they aren’t healthy any longer. Or they DO speak up and get extremely hurt and burned because of it. Feeling betrayed by loved ones and completely on their own in this world.
I’ve seen leaders become angry and short-fused to those they minister to. Patience thinned over time. Very worn out. Years of rest and care overdue. Needing rest and counselling but not even aware of it and unable to bring themselves to voice their struggles. After all, aren’t they supposed to be the amazing examples of the great commission? The world-changers? The wise ones who pour their experience and knowledge into the younger generation? Are we even able to look at them as simply our brothers and sisters who love Jesus and who’ve worked too hard and are worn and simply needing reprieve? Do we ever stop to think that when we write them or when they’re visiting, maybe they’d like to simply be a human with their friends? Not sharing all about how much they’re doing? They’re tired. They want a break from whatever “it” is. (If I'm wrong in this tell me why when trying to contact Elisabeth Elliot, you will see a website that states she isn’t taking messages because she is old, tired, and doesn’t want anything but to rest and be left to peace.)
I have seen many pastors and teachers. Genuine. Passionate. Longing to see their “students” on fire with Jesus and zealous to be world-changers. Seeing the potential in them and envisioning the amazing things they could do. But after years of watching their flocks sit in the mud of the same pits and self-focussed issues they become exhausted. Frustrated that their people aren’t making the progress they could. I’ve watched as these teachers are looked at as super-human. Treated as some form of celebrity. People hanging on their words as if they have all the answers to having an extraordinary, brilliantly bright life. It makes them feel they can’t be honest if they’re having a bad day, month, or year. Feeling they always have to have it all together. And just wanting to be left alone and allowed to crumble into a heap or be with friends and family. Not interrupted. Not stalked. I’ve personally watched Miss Beth lose it and cry in front of 30,000 women. Desperation for understanding in her eyes. An exhaustion over the mobs of followers who care more about her attention than learning and growing. And her sweet southern drawl, voice cracking with emotion:
“Seriously. I am NOTHING special. I’m just madly in love with Jesus and I want that for you. He is EVERYTHING. DO YOU GET THAT?!?!”
For example: Here I am. Living on support for 15 months. No job. No titles. Not technically anything. Except a 32 year old woman who has been radically redeemed from a hundred pits and is in love with her Jesus. I have had many adventures and am blessed to experience and know many people and ministries. I often do feel the pressure of the “leader” I am looked at as. The need to be spiritual and wise and put together and an example. And I don’t mind that most of the time. It keeps me accountable and keeps me on my face before the Lord. But I do often leave things unsaid. Afraid of not controlling the way people respond to or view me if I speak up. I don’t often talk about the deep pain that being single is for me. The way it exhausts me. The feeling that I have to totally take care of myself and figure things out on my own. The debt I’ve accumulated from medical problems I don’t often discuss. The way that each time I hit a new season in life I have to make a big decision about where and what I’m doing without help. Without anyone else to go and do WITH. The way I just want a family of my own and at the end of the day I have no home of my own to return to (Because even when I work, one income can’t afford it!) and nobody to discuss the day or my thoughts with. I don’t have a place to put my things, to call mine. A corner of solitude that is my own little spot or world. That’s why I love Disneyland so much. It’s familiar. Home. Comfort. Happiness. Joy. A Haven. A place I can be me fully. A place I can always come back to and know every inch of like the oldest of friends. Everything a home should be and is. Disneyland is that.
Yes, I have my Jesus. And I am continually learning Him as my husband. I get to know and depend on Him in ways no married friend experiences. And for that I’m thankful. But it’s still painful. I’m here in Africa. I love it, I do. It’s the most beautiful season. One I will remember for the rest of my life as incredible. But it’s also isolating. And then what? I’m more than broke. I don’t know where to go or what to do from here. I feel inadequate for much. I have no degree. I don’t know that many people even know my deepest talents and desires. I can’t plan on working at a coffee shop forever, nor do I want to: I have huge dreams that blow any of that normal junk out of the water. But I would like to return home after this. I feel I need my church. I’ve been way too cut off from them. But everybody has their own lives and families. Where do I fit now? What shall I do? How to afford it? Will anyone listen to the dreams I DO have? Will it matter that I’m there?
These are not uncommon things for many of the people I adore to be dealing with as well. Do you see the issues that even the most amazing people in ministry might struggle with? The point of all of this is to say that we are the Body. And I believe it can be the most beautiful thing on the face of this earth. But it’s not going to naturally function as it should. Taking care of each other takes thought. Work. Sacrifice. Asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom and insight into what we can do for others. And the continual willingness to step out and respond to His promptings. Even if it’s inconvenient. We all have something to offer those who are in the thick of the mud. And what we have to offer is unique.
Don’t assume somebody else is reaching out to your friends in ministry.
Often nobody is. They need YOU.
You are important and what you have to bring to the table matters to them.
Let’s each ask the Lord how we can bless our friends on the “fields”.
And let’s all be a part of something incredible.