I left my first full time call right before Advent of 2011. I didn’t want the season to be about my departure. I wanted them to have time to celebrate the season without thinking about the future of the church.
And I was pissed. It had been a disastrous call. I was burned out and angry. I felt betrayed and abandoned. And I felt like a failure.
Thus began a depression that would reshape my life.
I’ve been ordained for 8 and half years and I’ve gotten to preach three advent seasons, none where I was in a stable call. Maybe it’s hard to understand if you’re outside of the church world. It’s like being a quarterback who gets benched before the playoffs, or a pitcher who gets hurt before the world series… or an accountant who misses tax season(?)… I don’t know…
Advent, I recently told someone, is the season that has all that is beautiful about church. It has the best music, the best liturgy, and a rich theology of waiting and anticipation that I think is incredibly meaningful. It’s hard to be on the sidelines for that.
I had hoped that being engaged in the life of a church would lessen some of these feelings this year. In some ways, it has made them worse. I confess to a bit of envy in watching my colleague preach these days. She’s done a fabulous job! It’s just hard to be in the pews some mornings.
I realize, as I write this how petulant I must seem, like the whiny kid who’s been put in time out and now thinks the world is “not fair”. Yeah, it’s a bit obnoxious and I apologize. I am reminded again of the great privilege that I squandered and the collateral damage of that squandering. It’s overwhelming at times.
And yet, I can’t ignore that I have been down most of the month. Granted, my friend’s death certainly didn’t help, but that death happened over a backdrop of a season where I feel my wasted potential most profoundly. It’s hard for me to ignore that I feel love, joy, peace, and hope most profoundly when preaching about love, joy, peace, and hope and what I feel right now is their absence.
I’m writing this to make it real, because sometimes things aren’t real for me until I write them. And if it’s real, I can begin facing it. I’m hopeful that this may be the last Advent that I feel this for awhile, but I’ve also had that hope before. This is a place where I still have work to do on myself. I still have too much of my identity tied up into ministry and I need to be careful of that. I am more than a guy in a pulpit and I’m still doing important things with my life. I still have things to contribute.
My wife made me an Advent wreath from succulents. She’s crafty, that one. It’s beautiful and I love it! She knows how much Advent means to me and has gone out of her way to make it special for me the last two years. Last year it was the Bourbon Advent calendar which ended up being surprisingly meaningful. This year, a wreath made of plants I can continue to grow through the cold winter months. As she often does, Shannon reminds me that I still matter, that I am loved, and that there is someone in the world who is fighting with and beside me every step of the way. Even when I don’t believe that I have much to offer, I believe that she believes that I have something to offer, and sometimes, that is enough.
And that is the gospel in a nutshell; we are valuable because we are loved. We are known, even with all our faults, and still loved. That is redemptive and healing. That should make us want to fight on and make sure others know that they are loved too.
So, in this season of waiting, I wait. I wait for restoration. I wait for my community to affirm once again that I am called to service. I wait to be brought back into the fold. But I don’t wait alone. And I don’t wait passively. There is work to be done. There are people to love and there is love to receive. The latter often is the harder work.
This season is hard for me. Waiting almost always is. I am depressed. I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could get over myself enough to feel the joy and love that surround me. It will come. I believe that. For now, I wait…