Rising levels of stress are causing more depression among pastors. Stressors include declines in membership and contributions, personal financial worries (often due to educational debt), and discord in congregations. One of the top predictors of depression is social isolation. Pastors moving from hospital visits to funerals to weddings experience a range of unpredictable emotions—another indicator of depression. On the positive side, some pastoral counselors see an increase in the number of pastors who are willing to seek professional help and are open with their congregations about their emotional difficulties (ABP).
I read this and thought. Nah. Not me. I’m not stressed. That was before my morning meeting. That was before I sat with the small group of loving church members that carefully and lovingly visit those that can’t quite regularly make it to church. (We call them shut ins, but it’s a strange term.) That was before I was reminded of how hard is to grow old in America. I read these words and thought this brazen thought before I allowed myself to ask again how Christ calls us to care for those that need to be reminded of his love. Because it’s the question that I ask myself every day. It’s this question that centers my ministry and propels me into this wild work where I stand at bedsides, preside at memorial services and send the wrong article to the stewardship ministry than the one I intended.
I want to live fully immersed in the love of Christ. It’s why I do the work that I do but — as music from Taize flows through my earbuds as I sit down to compose something resembling a sermon in my favorite coffee shop — it hits me. Tears seem to be just at the brim as I slowly allow myself to admit what I didn’t want to confess earlier in the day. I am stressed. But, even as I write those words, I want to edit them. Because it doesn’t feel quite like stress. Maybe it’s more like the great ordeal that is mentioned in the lection I’ll be preaching on this Sunday. Because as we read these words in Leisurely Lectionary this morning, these words that proclaim,
For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and God will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:15-17, NRSV)
I breathed a bit of relief reading these words.
Because I wanted to claim this vision where God will wipe away every tear and lead us to springs of water. This vision where God will be our shepherd. But, sometimes that’s hard to remember. I felt that as I got up to preach last week after the roller coaster of events last week that were best summed up in this article in The Onion. Last night, I told my Pastoral Relations Committee how I stood up to preach in the second service this past Sunday and thought simply, I really wish someone else would speak. I really want to hear good news from someone else. They laughed because they understood. We all have that human desire. That wish that someone else will make it better. Someone else will offer that hope that seems so far away. And sometimes all I can do — in all of my authenticity — is admit that I’m emotional.