In the Lap of Angst
Regina once told me she has grown as a minister by learning to sit with her anxiety. This is some of the best advice I have ever received; unfortunately, I have loads of anxiety with which to sit.
Many days I feel at odds with most things ministerial, but I have determined to listen to the tension rather than stuff it away, and somehow I find in the angst my real workplace.
Example: I revolt at the phrase “I do ministry” or “I want to do ministry” or “I love doing ministry”—common denominator being the words “do ministry.” Ugh. Such language sounds like I am a dispenser of the sacred wealth. Gross. I do not want to be a distributor of mercy funds. I want to believe that mercy is there already, and I happen to be skilled/learned at spotting it, like a bird-watcher. I don’t give birds to people. Sheesh. That would be presumptuous, not to mention a violation of the wild. But I hope to help people see what’s perched right above their heads, if only they pause and open their eyes, or glance from a different angle than the one they are currently stuck in.
“Do ministry” sounds like people need something done to them, like a facelift or a tummy tuck, a perm or a hair dye. But I am not in the business of fixing people or accessorizing them. I’m in the business of simple observation, which hardly sounds like a job worth paying money for, though it turns out to be what many people are most craving—to be noticed, deeply.
Example: I dislike, disown even, the word leadership. Attaching the word servant to the front-end doesn’t impress me either. I just don’t like it, period. Call me naïve. Call me timid. Call me a follower. But I just cannot be cajoled into owning this “leader” title. I have tried to wear it, and it doesn’t fit—too tight here, too baggy there. Supposedly leadership is hip these days, because everywhere I turn someone is trying to be a leader or form leaders. I wonder, if we all become successful leaders, who is going to do the following?
Practicalities aside, I still don’t want to “lead my people.” (On that note, I don’t like the phrase “my people” either; it sounds like I am a collector and people are my trophies.) Here are some of the things I try to do instead of leading: I spend time with people, and I listen to them. Sometimes, I try to offer people a new set of lens, because I am sometimes good at that kind of thing. I ask questions and I try to withhold answers. I try to notice when I see a person coming awake. I throw an inner celebration on their behalf when I see them living, and, if necessary, grieve if I suspect they may be dying a little on the inside. I think really hard about what it might mean to fiercely guard the dignity of each person, though I constantly fail at doing so. I follow my own spiritual path with absolute tenacity and fully expect that will influence others for the better rather than the worse.
Example: I am severely uncomfortable when pastors talk about their congregants as if church members were children and we were their parental figures who have to settle their sibling disputes. I mean, I know it can feel like sibling rivalry in the church, and sometimes we all act like grumpy teenagers, but I sure don’t want to parent anyone through that hormonal mess other than my own flesh and blood kids, and even then, I will probably do it out of obligation, not desire. Am I the only one who thinks that treating people like children will only encourage them to act like children? I like instead to think of every person as my equal with the expectation that we will keep rotating hats—teacher to student, back to teacher.
These are just a few of the things that stir the pot of my angst, and over-analyzer that I am, I might be thinking myself into an unnecessary mess . . . and yet, I am trying to break this habit I have of talking myself out of my feelings. Instead, I am trying to ask, Why do I feel this way and what do these feelings have to teach me? I have heard that your inner wisdom only gets rambunctious and troublesome when you’re refusing to pay attention, so if something is eating at you, that anger/angst/agitation may not be a character flaw but an S.O.S. flag stirring wildly from your soul.