You Don’t Own Me

They think they own you. That’s what she said at the end of our visit. She wanted me to know that she understood the weirdness of the work that pastors do. She is, after all, a preacher’s kid. She’s lived it. And this is the last thought she shared with me as we prepared to leave the coffee shop.

I sputtered uncomfortable laughter because I know this all too well. I had bumped into it just a few days ago when another church member wanted to tell me how to feel. I know it was intended to be kind. And it was except for the fact that I wasn’t allowed to have my own feelings. This kind church member kept trying to talk me out of how I felt. I left that conversation rather annoyed. I am always annoyed when people tell me how to feel — especially about things that matter to me. And my ministry does matter to me. I have feelings about my ministry that have nothing to do with the congregations I have served. My feelings are caught up in trying to figure out who I am called to be — just as I encourage those in the pews to do the same. And, the truth is: I haven’t quite figured that out yet.

A few months ago, another church member offered some other words that have been bouncing around in my head ever since they were spoken. We want you to have more fun. That’s what he said. These words surprised me because I’m used to feeling owned by the church. I beat myself up about not living up to the responsibilities outlined in the job description of the Pastor/Head of Staff. I wonder if I’m spending too much time studying or praying. I know I have been heavy on the administration aspects of my role lately and I haven’t done nearly enough pastoral care. And I feel awful about that. I feel like such total crap about that — and have promised myself that I will do better. I will rearrange my priorities. I will try to remember that this congregation called me first to be a pastor. That’s the most important thing that the Pastor Seeking Committee asked of me. They didn’t want an administrator, a visionary or an executive. They wanted a pastor.

They can own me on that one. I’ll allow it. I want to be my own person with my own feelings — but I am their pastor. They can own that one. Because that’s why I came to become their pastor. This pastoral stuff — the home visits, the hospital visits, the cups of coffee and even the emails contemplating life’s biggest questions — are why I love this work. I love being immersed in this stuff that makes the love of God so much more tangible and real. I wouldn’t call it fun. That’s not the right word for it. It doesn’t sound right. Because this pastoral stuff is also really hard. Sometimes it requires me to take long walks where I sob hysterically and sometimes it compels me just to light candles in the dark because I don’t know what else to do. Fun is not the right word for this aspect of the sacred task of ministry.

Fun is there. Fun happens. I have a hard time pinpointing it like trying to recount the number of times you laughed in a given day. You know you did. You have a vague memory — but you can’t remember what caused the feeling. You just remember the laughter. I can only remember the laughter and maybe I need more of it. (Don’t we all need more laughter?) That’s when this sweet pastor’s kid gets into my head reminding me that church people don’t own all of me.

I am not entirely proud that this is the song that starts playing in my head.
The past few weeks, I have been posting songs on Facebook that have crept into my head while writing my sermons. I think this one in particular hints at my defiance. (I said I wasn’t really proud of this, right?) I have seen more and more of my young colleagues in ministry (especially women) leave parish ministry in search of something else. Not all of them have made the move. Some of them are just talking about it. Others have made that leap like my friend Elizabeth said just this week. So this is it, she said. You don’t own me. I am going to seek my call to serve God and this is the fun that I’m going to have. Or, as Elizabeth says, she gains herself. I read this as another colleague hosted a webinar about ministry dreams. As much as I wanted to listen into that conversation, even if my staff meeting didn’t interfere, I stumbled to think about what my dreams are.

Of course, this is what hits me this week. It isn’t just the meeting I have tonight — but the questions I have been asking of myself over and over again for the past three years. Because Sunday is the anniversary of my mother’s death. And I miss her like hell. But, her death still weighs upon me in ways that I can’t really explain and haven’t figured out. (You only need to look through the archives of this blog to figure that out.) I’m hunting for some big answers that I haven’t yet found. I don’t know what my dreams are — because part of me is stuck. Part of me still isn’t sure how to dream. Because I’m still not sure what to do with this next part of my life — the part where I get to live longer than my mother ever did. There’s a rebellion in that that I’m still struggling to accept but it owns me more than anything.

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