Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too
--Jackson Browne, "Running on Empty"
A week ago today was the one-year anniversary of the day I was Installed as Pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. That means I've been back in parish ministry for a few days over a year now. In many ways, this has been the best year of my life. After over four and-a-half years in the "purgatory" of CRM status, the Lord has brought me to this place and these people to let me serve and love them and to be served and loved by them. The reception my family has received here has been nothing short of familial, which, especially after how Faith was received elsewhere, has been a balm. I'm serving a loving and faithful congregation with a Board of Elders who is supportive and encouraging; and as long as I faithfully preach and teach administer the sacraments, visit the sick and shut-in, and keep the parsonage lawn, things are quiet and peaceful. If I were inclined to complain--and y'all know I am capable of such things--I'd have very little to complain about, other than the cows sometimes being too loud across the alley from the parsonage. But we love "our" cows, especially the white one who stands alone in the herd.
All that being said, I will admit to a certain fatigue. It's been a hectic year. We moved our family and belongings, with me nearly breaking my neck in the process. (And yes, I still have pain and tingling and numbness in my left arm.) To justify the faith placed in me by the St. Peter congregation, I've thrown myself into this Call with a vengeance. But I've been a little stupid about it. I've gotten out of the practice of taking my regular day off, and I know better than that. I learned that lesson in North Dakota when I didn't take a day off between Christmas and Easter during my first year in parish ministry. After over four years away from full-time parish ministry, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything. I wanted to cover all the bases, dot the t's and cross the i's, so to speak. I had my mid-week Lenten sermon series written almost a month before Lent began. I've done the visits, written my own Bible study for our Sunday morning class, and preached every week since my Installation, except when we invited Southern Illinois District President Scharr to bring the Word to us. I've been involved in every youth group activity, and we're planning more--much to my delight.
But now I've got a case of the blahs. It's not a bad case of the blahs, but I've got 'em. It's not burnout. It's not depression. (Don't think I haven't considered that possibility.) My diagnosis: Part of it is not taking that regular day off. Part of it is that I'm in sore need of a vacation, and we had to cancel the one we had scheduled (we'd be in Louisiana right now) because of Mississippi River flooding and the opening of the Morganza Spillway, which even now is spewing water towards my wife's hometown. Part of it is that Faith and I haven't been out together since New Year's Eve, and I really miss my wife! Part of it is that I'm not able to regularly exercise because of my neck issues, and I really miss my exercise routine from my time at the Rec. I can swim and walk, and that's it. My knees make walking problematic, and the nearest year-round public pool is . . . Carbondale? (Yeah, this is me making excuses, blah, blah, blah. Get those new sneakers on and just do it.)
More than those, I think the real problem is that I've not been as faithful in my prayer life as I know I need to be as a parish pastor. I wrote my MDiv thesis on the topic of daily prayer, and I know how important it is for everyone, more than just pastors. My copy of "The Treasury of Daily Prayer" is sitting on my desk as I type. It's not collecting dust--perish the thought! (I keep a notepad on top of it to keep the dust away.) I have numerous hymnals, Gerhard's "Sacred Meditations", "The Brotherhood Prayer Book", Lindemann's "The Daily Office", Loehe's "Seed Grains of Prayer", Dobberstein's "The Minister's Prayer Book", and half a shelf more. The discipline to open and use these resources is what's lacking. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh" and all that.
I don't write this seeking your pity or even your recommendations. I've heard them all. Twice. However, if you are so inclined, your prayers would be appreciated. As always.
"O Lord, open Thou my lips . . ."