The older I get, the less sure I am of most things. But if there’s one thing I know to be true in this life it is that we need each other.
Most especially when we think we don’t.
Last night I had, through my work, the opportunity to visit with a group of about 20 pastors–the vast majority of them having chalked up decades of service to the Church at this point in their lives and careers. This is especially remarkable if you are aware, as I am, that the Church they first fell in love with and made promises to lead and serve looks very little like the Church they are still seeking to love and lead and serve today.The world is not as it was then. And so neither is the Church.
Part of what I do professionally these days (which is still a surprise to me) is work with a program designed to help foster sustainability in ministry for pastors. Put conversely, the program is rooted in research about clergy burnout/clergy health and well-being and what pastors might need to be healthier and avoid the mind-numbing, soul-sapping reality that is burnout (of any kind).
I’ve known burnout. Maybe you have to. And it feels just like it sounds: burnout. Nothing left. No gas in the tank. No possibility that the match will relight. No desire to do the work you once loved, rather, a desire to run far from it in pursuit of something that will give you life and purpose and meaning again.
I also know/believe that the root of burnout is isolation.
Isolation happens when we forget that we are not islands unto ourselves. When we forget that we were, at our very first breath, created for relationship. When out of our own fear or pain or stress level we block out the very people we need most. When we are unable to trust and so retreat inside ourselves with the insistence of a box turtle traumatized by a neighborhood dog.
Because we often feel as if the weight of the world is, in fact, to be carried upon our shoulders, clergy persons are especially susceptible to burnout. We have no one to blame but ourselves and our very tender hearts for this. Still…it is.
But whether clergy or business-types, CEO’s or stay-at-home moms (or dads), caregivers or entrepreneurs, men or women, Christian or Muslim, GOP or DNC, we cannot exist (for very long or very well) in isolation. And when we attempt to do so, we wilt. Slowly. Like the quiet fading away of a peace lily that’s been left neglected in the office lobby since last year’s Christmas party.
It is, inherently, against our very nature to silo ourselves off from one another.
There are people I’ve known who have brought out the very worst there is in me. The result of this is usually me feeling terrible about myself and losing any sense of humor or creativity (normally my two great salvations in difficult situations). And it’s easy to say, “Well, I don’t need her in my life anyway.” Or, “I don’t have to work him anymore, thankthebabyjesusandallthesaints!”
But the truth is that these people, they teach me things about myself that matter (even if what’s being taught is something I didn’t want to know), and for this reason alone…I need them. Or at least needed them for a season. And they are, even if in just a small way, part and parcel of who I am every day becoming.
Because I am a person of Christian faith, I am consistently humbled and amazed by the great truth of the Christmas story–a story that lays out in no uncertain terms that God created us for one another. As if to say, “Clearly you’ve forgotten that this life, it’s about the journey together, despite what personality clashes or differences of opinion you might have, and so let me remind you, with the most vulnerable among you, a baby, what it means to have life together.”
And y’all? In a world where teenage girls are stolen in the dead of night, and where black folks and white folks are rioting in the streets over our mutual distrust, and where more people than we’ll ever know are walking around with more pain than we could ever imagine assailing their hearts, and when guns designed to kill people are an acceptable accessory….
In a world where all this is true, I know no other message that needs more proclaiming than this:
We need each other.
We need each other.