Confessions of a Pastor

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Yesterday we announced my upcoming sabbatical. I was greatly encouraged by the words of affirmation and eagerness to embrace this journey together. This will be good. 

Last week I wrote these words in my journal. They are true and honest. The beginning of my sabbatical journey. 

________

I am taking a break from the pastor life. Some would say that’s impossible since it’s a calling rather than a vocation. But I don’t often do things the usual way. So, we can call it a sabbatical. Call it needed time of preparation and reflection. Call it a mid-life point of crisis. Whatever it is, for 7 weeks this summer I am leaving the pastor life as I know it. 

What am I talking about? Let me try to put words to my thoughts.

I am happy. Excited. Somewhat rejuvenated to just think about the upcoming break. But I am more scared. Scared of being forgotten. Scared the thoughts in my head will be confirmed. Scared people will leave the church. Scared sabbatical will be seen as weakness of leadership. Scared I won’t want to return. Scared I won’t return. Scared to return. Scared I will sabotage my calling. Scared that I don’t actually have a calling. Scared that sometimes I don’t give a care about any of it. Scared. 

Why, I wonder? Why am I scared? 

I don’t have all the answers right now. But I do have a inkling of an idea. 

I live with a convinced posture of knowing I am mostly a projection on a wall. An imposed image of an edited reality. I am a mere power outage or unplugged cord away from my projection being exposed. And I am afraid sabbatical will be the power outage, the unplugged cord. 

Why? Because the flow of energy that charges my life seems to originate from my doing. And sabbatical is all about right being. I don’t know how to be…or more clearly, I don’t think I will like what my being actually is. Without the doing to mask my true self…well now, that’s a problem. 

Is it pride? Probably. Pride is any distortion of true self-understanding, so definitely it is a pride issue. If humility is a true and confessed understanding of one’s self…that’s what I wish to find. But, as it’s been said many times before, the one who seeks to find humility will never find it. I suppose humility is only “found” in confession. Not found BY confession, but found IN the very act of confession. 

So, let me start my sabbatical confession early. Here I am, 4 weeks prior to beginning sabbatical, and here are my confessions. 

I am a doubter. I doubt much of what I have been told as true in my life. I doubt those who claim to hold the “authority of the bible.”  I doubt my long-held moral convictions. I doubt the goodness of people. I doubt the power of evil. I doubt hell. And I have all but given up on any golden streets in heaven. I kinda doubt the resurrection. I doubt the means of grace. I doubt the Church. I doubt I can keep my marriage together. I doubt my children will have a faith of their own. I doubt. I doubt most everything. And then I doubt my doubts. It’s not that I have no faith, but rather, it seems, faith is growing up and questioning my childish truths. It seems that I am near a crisis of faith. Not a crisis that gives up on belief…but a crisis that gives up my own faith in exchange for The Faith. It’s time to hold onto something with deeper roots, something broader, something more secured than “my own belief.” I currently confess to only profess a hope of having this kind of faith. But even that small glimmer of hope is light enough to guide me. 

I am a fraud. I suppose if one were to line up a cross section of humanity, I would come out in the top half of the goodness scale. It’s not that my fraud means I am a evil-committed person. It’s not even that if the hidden stories in my life were exposed it would suddenly make me a fraud. It’s something even more sinister. Something even more deceptive and empty. It’s so painful that I’m not sure I can even admit it…and that’s what makes me a fraud; I hold a position as pastor who hears the confession of others, calls others to confess, but for me…I find myself unable to fully confess. Unable to be honest with those around me. I’m afraid of the perceived consequence. Afraid of the judgement. Afraid to let anyone see my real desires. So I hide. I hide behind the projections. I do not truly live…I only pretend to live. I offer to others only what I think they want to see. I don’t just wear a mask…but an entire costume. Again, this is not the way I want to be…I desire to escape the prison of projection. I want to share the freedom of confession and truth. I want to be part of a community of people who embrace and encourage one another to pursue a new way. One where shame and secret no longer separate. 

I am empty. My vision only extends to end of the current day. Sometimes only to the next cup of coffee. I am pastorally nearsighted. Kingdom vision, eschaton imagination, is blurred by the stigma of schedules, parenting, multiple jobs, physical exhaustion, lack of hobby and waning physical discipline. The regimen of rhetoric has stolen my words. The pursuit of faithfulness has left me fruitless. Standing up on behalf of others has left me with shaking legs. I am tired. Empty. Broken. Worn thin. But I have not given up. The irony of emptiness has led me to dependency. I lean more on others and the “words from elsewhere” (thanks Brueggemann) than ever before. Emptiness, it seems, is followed with a refilling. 

I’m distracted. I can sense the need for sabbath, for rest, for a renewal of discipline, a new imagination. I can see it and feel it in my distracted loves, my desire for gratification, my quickness to cynicism and anger, my apathy, my dismissal of others. I sense the need for something to change…before everything changes. Perhaps it’s the delusion of weariness, or an empty emotion, or just the distraction of the mundane. Or maybe it’s the thrill of fear, the rush of mystery, the flush of endorphin that is pulling me away. But more than likely it’s a combination of the boredom of routine, the culmination of commitments, the pull of a distorted imagination and a desire to escape the realities of the present. Whatever it is…I’m in it. I am trapped in the torment of desiring something other than what I am and whose I am.

Read whatever you wish into those last words. It’s probably all true. Denying it doesn’t make it less true. I confess it in an attempt to take its power away. It isn’t what I want to be, not what I desire in my more clear moments, not what I know is best for others and even myself. But I must admit, it has grown past a fleeting thought and into a desiring thought. In quiet moments I can hear my own mind plotting a way out of the pastoral life. I know this is not where my thoughts ought to be. And it’s that very ought-to that pushes me away. I’m tired of the ought. I want to pursue. Or be pursued. I want to let my desires lead. And only sometimes I want right desire. It seems my desires are leading a wondering path. And the views are intriguing. 

So why, why in the world, would I offer these most inner thoughts? Well, it’s part of the summer I am embarking on. This summer I intend to take a journey. To find my being. Find my calling. Find out what it means to shed all the ought-to, all the shame and hiding. Find out what it means to be free, to commit without reserve, to love without withhold, to give without protection of self, to truly live in the good world God has created. 

Ambitious? Probably. But the confession and challenge has already begun to change me. 

8 thoughts on “Confessions of a Pastor

  1. Your confessions sucked me in. I feel it. I remember wanting to run away from the farm as a kid…on a four-wheeler (that Honda FourTrax 250r I longed for), riding only in the ditches (to avoid detection) and living in a hidden underground house where no one could find me. I still want to do that sometimes — often when there’s seemingly too much disparity between my inward life and my outward one.

  2. I share your cynicism and many of your doubts. And I need more people in my life who are honest about their shortcomings and weaknesses. May God renew your spirit and give you rest and healing during your time off.

  3. John Prichard

    Excellent and transparent post Shane. I see much of myself in your words and have said some of the same things to people in my life of late. Thank you brother and God bless your journey and sabbatical.

  4. Jamie

    You are exactly the pastor I need and I am proud to call you my brother. Thanks for the honesty, vulnerability and courage. Your pilgrimage is off to a great start and you are in great company!

  5. Donnie

    You described in words what I have felt for more than 10 years after leaving paid to be good professional ministry. Thank you for your honest confession! It is mine as well.

  6. Keith Waggoner

    Good words, my friend. I pray your authentic confession (which mirrors the same doubt and feelings I feel at many times) will lead to a refreshing and renewing sabbatical. As painful as it is, I’ve learned more about God in my times of emptiness than when I’m on top of the world. Love you, brother.

  7. Pingback: Lent: Day 5 |

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