Serving a church is hard. For pastors and for lay leaders, there are times or seasons when we are uneasy, unable to rest. A crisis within the church family, a big blow to the budget, and changing personnel can all create moments of restlessness. At the same time, a sick child or an aging parent, a medical diagnosis, or a death in the family also creates unease and restlessness. We find ourselves in a time of wilderness with many more questions than answers. We want to rest in God, we want to listen for God’s guidance, and we want to trust that God is with us. But our human frailty and need for control sometimes get in the way.
A pastor’s call includes walking alongside people, wrestling with God, asking questions, and naming doubts… all the while continuing to proclaim the good news of the gospel and shepherd the people. (Oh, and don’t forget: fix the copy machine, set-up tables and chairs, update the website, turn in receipts, cut out paper hearts, cook food, and listen. Just listen.)
And sometimes that’s just plain challenging.
The “Teacher” from the wisdom literature in Ecclesiastes wrote that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (NRSV, Ecc. 3:1-8). And in last Sunday’s lectionary, many of us read the story of Jesus’ 40 days and 40 nights spent in the wilderness before the tempter came (See Matthew 4:1-11). For Jesus, and for us, there is a time to be in the wilderness, a time to be tempted, a time to be alone, a time to be famished. And after all of this, there is a time to be cared for by angels, a time to be among friends, a time for rest, and a time for rejoicing.
But the time spent in the wilderness is difficult. The time spent waiting for care and rest and celebration is challenging. There’s a moving depiction of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness put together by Adam Young, using the illustrations of Simon Smith here. The first part of the wilderness journey isn’t so bad while we cling to the sustenance of previous days. We may also find new ways to enjoy life in the wilderness. But at some point, it does begin to take its toll.
As church leaders, we’ve got to care for our bodies and souls in the wilderness. You know how, throughout the years and seasons in our lives, as many things within us and around us change, we continue to find ourselves in similar patterns and situations? I happen to be one of those people who thrives on to-do lists and organization (everyone that knows me is now nodding). When I find myself in these wilderness times, even my organizational skills seem to be taken up by the wind. I don’t have control, and I know it.
One of my college professors, Dr. Suzii Christian Parsons, once shared this wisdom with me, “You know, Rebecca, you don’t have to save the world… because it’s already been done.” (Ahhh…. Right.) In the times of wilderness and fasting, when we grow more and more famished, and everything we know has been swept up by the wind, may we remember that it’s really not up to us. We don’t carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Jesus grants us rest. Jesus showers us with grace. Even in the Lenten wilderness, may we remember the good news: that Jesus has already come to save the world! Amen.
In serving the church, what is most challenging for you? What are your seasons of wilderness? What wisdom do you have to share?