Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What looks like sanctuary in a busy life

Sanctuary is my one word for 2013, but what does that look like in real life?  Life is busy, chaotic, and often harsh.  My life as a chaplain is full of demands and if I don't stop to care for myself, I allow the burdens of those to whom I minister to weigh me down.  At the end of the year I was feeling pretty heavy, limping from too many hours at work and away from my family, and saddened by several tragedies and deaths.  Ministry is beautiful and sacred and inspiring...and it is painful and uncertain and hard.  There have been articles lately about the minister who checked himself into the hospital for depression, and I applaud his bravery in the midst of serious pressures.  You would think that shepherds who care for others would know how to care for themselves, and I guess we do, but we often don't practice what we preach.  Sometimes it's because we are expected by congregations to work 60 hours a week and attend to every need, and sometimes we get a little misguided about our own needs and (self) importance.  There's also the rush of ministry that feels GOOD to be serving and helping and doing important, holy things.  It feels great...until it doesn't anymore.  Burnout is a hard and painful reality for many, and so is depression.

We learned about Henri Nouwen's concept of the "wounded healer" in seminary--how we can be more empathetic in ministering to others due to the pain we've experienced.  It may explain the number of people with mental and emotional illnesses that are drawn into the field.  We know how it feels and want to reach out to help others become whole and healthy.  Sometimes we forget about our own brokenness until it's too late, though.  My husband's first experience in full-time ministry was as an associate pastor.  He had been hired and had scarcely even been in the church when the word came that the senior minister had committed suicide, leaving a wife, two young children, and a grieving church behind.  His struggle with depression was known to some, but the word I heard spoken most often in the church hall following his funeral was the ironic praise, "He just did everything for everybody.  He was such a great pastor, he was always here."

There is a high price for living such a life.  There is a cost to sacrificing our own needs, spirituality, time, and family for the good of others.  That cost is too high for me.  I'm committed to living more simply and intentionally, grounded in my faith and my commitment to my family.  My relationship with God must come first so that I can be healthy and connected and so that I can really be present to those I love and serve.  I'm seeking God to be my sanctuary, my hiding place, my refuge, my holy place, in order that I may become that safe place for others to seek God's love and truth.

How do I do this?  I'm not really sure; I'm figuring it out as I go.  I'm looking for what feeds my soul and doing more of that (especially when I must spend time in soul-draining pursuits).  I'm seeking time away, which my introverted self craves.  I'm praying to see the world through God's eyes so that I can see past the darkness and ugliness and see more of the hope and love.  I want to live from my heart with authenticity and vulnerability (even though it's hard and risky).  I'm looking to honor my time and that of my husband and children, keeping sacred time for my family.  I'm reminding myself that I need others, and reaching out for the support of community.

In my life, that looks like a lot of reading and regular writing.  It means trying to make it home for family dinners and tucking the kids into bed.  It means a weekly walk with a friend and a yoga class to de-stress.  I hope it will mean more dates with my handsome husband, and more time to dream.  But it also means living fully in whatever moment I find myself in, reengaging my ministry passion, counseling, teaching, preaching, comforting, and even attending lots of meetings and doing paperwork.  When I give of myself, I want to give fully, whether in work or in play.

Where and how are you seeking sanctuary?

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