I’ve still got a lot to learn about being a follower of Christ, and a lot to learn about being a pastor. As a 30 year old pastor I know I have a lot to learn, although there are certainly still times when I get confused and think I have it all figured out and don’t understand how other Christians or other Ministers don’t understand what I do. One of the ways I have been confused is not understanding how ministers can get burned out. I have always wondered, if you are doing what God called you to do, how can you burn out. About a month ago I was leaving the hospital after what seemed like the 13th or 14th visit there in two weeks, and getting ready to head to another hospital for another visit. As I was waiting for the elevator the thought hit me, “This whole being a pastor thing is taking over my life”. Suddenly, I understood burnout. And, suddenly, although I knew I was nowhere near burning out, I was a little scared that it might get me down the road. This thought stuck with me as I left the hospital, and was magnified when I received another call when I left the second hospital. On my drive home it continued to rattle around my normally empty head.
After the thought had been churning for over an hour I finally had a realization that completely changed my perspective and will hopefully aid me in my life as a pastor, and will hopefully aid others in their lives as whatever they are called to be. Maybe, just maybe, being a pastor wasn’t taking over my life, maybe it was simply teaching me to live in a more authentically human way. Is it hard visiting the hospital and seeing people who are sick, who are not sure whether they will live or die? Yes, it certainly can take an emotional toll, but it has taught me how to care more deeply and to be open to accept the hurt and the emotional weight that can come with these visits. This is who I am called to be, this is the authentic me, or at least a part of it.
This is what Christians have called vocation, in the words of Frederick Buechner “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world greatest needs”. I would add “at the intersection with God’s will” to the end of that, but that’s just me. Each of us has a vocation, and it is something that we often times only find bit by bit. Put simply, my vocation is to be a pastor, but there are many layers of what it means for me to be pastor. And what vocation is really about is being authentic to who God has called us to be. Vocation is not a one time decision, it is something that is learned and created moment by moment. It is about learning to be human, and not in the “I’m only human” way, but in the “I am a bearer of the image of God” way. It is also about learning that there is a freedom in giving up what we think we want for what resonates with the deepest parts of who we are.
Vocation means that we give up the control that we only think we have over our lives in order to live into the person we continue to be created to be (yes, that sentence makes my brain melt a little, too). What I mean is, who we are continues to change, so to say the person we were created to be suggests that we are already complete. What vocation is is continuing to be created as a more authentic you. Vocation is not simply what we do, it is who we are, and yes, obviously, this will take over our lives, if we look at it through the lens that tells us we control our lives. But, if we look at it through the lens of authenticity then we will see that it is only living truly. It is living without all of the junk that builds up on us, without the peripheral things that only serve as distractions and keep us from real and abiding happiness. If we are going to follow our vocation we need to learn to live more and more authentically from moment to moment. That means that we need to learn to see the world through the lens of authenticity instead of through the lens of control. If we can’t do that then living out an authentic vocation will feel like it is taking over your life and not the abundant life that God desires for you as a part of life.