Letter from a Spiritual Director (2)
I think it’s a very good idea to take a little bit of “decompression” time after you’ve preached- why not extend that to periods of general busyness? I’ve found that our vocation involves so much talking that just getting away for an extended period of silence is good for the soul. Of course, you would not believe how hard it is to actually do! Yours was not the first word and, guess what? Right, it won’t be the last word either. What’s that thing that Eugene Peterson says? ‘We think we use words, but they end up using us’ or something like that. There is a man worth listening carefully to. I’ve found that words have far more power for good when we’ve received them deeply in communion with God- you know what I mean, don’t you? I’m talking about those moments of profundity when you’re so incredibly conscious of the voice of God.
Let me remind you of something: you cannot control what people will do with the words that you speak (privately or publicly). You just don’t get that much control. I think you need to resist the urge to use language irresponsibly for that very reason. I know it’s annoying and frustrating when you preach your heart out and people are looking back at you with their best Guppy impression on, but you can’t see what is happening inside, so you mustn’t try and force it. After all, you’re not in bad company, are you? Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus? Preachers have never been popular in a conventional sense of the word! Even Jesus’ disciples were numb-skulls at times, but he was patient with them.
This is a long-term calling, Alan, where the remaining is the key to the fulfilling. You’ve got to walk that fine line between expecting too much and not expecting anything. Success is a dreadful qualifier for Christian ministry, so it’s good not to let your head be turned by what the latest Twitter fad is. Try and imagine what the church will look like in thirty years as it grows up with you and you grow up with it. The true barometer will be your spiritual health and sanity, and the spiritual health and sanity of the church, after years and years of faithfulness.
Okay my friend, that is enough to chew over for now. In your next letter I want you to tell me more about why you feel anxious when people ask to speak to you. Ha! You will be a well-honed reflective, contemplative leader before you know it!
Grace and Peace!