Diana Trautwein is the blogosphere’s spiritual grandmother, with a vast amount of ministry and life experience. Every interaction with her feels like I’m sitting down in front of a warm fire, eating tea and muffins. It’s a pleasure to have her here today:
I was 52 years old when I started my first paid pastoral position. Not exactly a spring chicken. The journey from conservative, stay-at-home-mom-church-and-community-leader to seminary student, then to ordained pastor was filled with surprises, with affirmation of my gifts, and with questions about where this all was headed.
My husband’s job kept us pretty bound to a geographical location. So, after seminary, I took on multiple roles within the larger denomination while I worked part-time for no pay at my home church and wondered about a call somewhere else. That call came through one of those denominational connections, and it seemed perfect for me: 30 hours per week, Associate Pastor, working alongside a man I knew and liked. It required a big move for us, and re-building community in a new place.
I saw no reason for concern about any of that; I was so excited to have an actual call to be a pastor! My husband’s investment firm had a branch office in this new town where he could work two days a week; the rest of the week would be spent 125 miles away, in the old town, staying with family. Perfect! Everything was working out well.
I was lonely. My husband was gone for three days (which was fine by me — fewer home-cooked meals, lots of new work projects to keep me busy) and two nights (which became increasingly difficult in this new neighborhood, a wealthy one with large lots, no streetlights and lots of things that went bump in the night).
And I was actively discouraged by my new boss from making friends within the congregation. Now think about that for a minute. I had been an active lay leader all my life, with the church and its community as centerpiece. Church was where I had almost all of my close friendships. So here I was, in a new place, where I knew no one, working hours above-and-beyond, and without my husband’s companionship for three days of each and every week.
Also, my new boss and his amazing secretary were admitted workaholics, physically and emotionally equipped to put in 80 hours a week. I tried hard to keep up. Truly, I did. But I began to have a few health issues here and there. A new doctor suggested a course of treatment that backfired pretty badly, leaving me seriously anemic and exhausted at the end of year five of this new life. I literally hit the wall one night — one lonely night with my husband gone, feeling overwhelmed by everything, and resorting to my usual form of self-medication — eating too much of something.
I collapsed in a heap on the floor, crying out to God that I could not do this anymore. What was God thinking when he called me to this place? How could I possibly be such a miserable failure in this role, the one I believed I had been made to fill? How could God have let this happen? I was letting down the church, I was letting down God, I was letting down the entire cadre of women in ministry, I was letting down my family, I was letting down myself.
Thanks be to God for grace! My boss immediately understood, told me to take as much time off as I needed, and promised to hold my job for me. I resigned from the chairmanship of the denominational judicatory (yes, I had continued with my denominational work as well as my job), and I set about getting well.
The anemia was a fairly simple fix — iron tablets, rest. Healing the emotional and spiritual holes in my heart was much tougher. All my life, I was a strong, capable person, able to handle anything life threw my way. Now, I found myself in the humiliating position of having to withdraw from all of that competency-driven stuff. I needed to stop doing so that I could start being. I needed to stop worrying about what everyone else in the world thought of me and center in on who I was in Christ. I needed to find a new way to do my life.
It was not easy to step out of ministry. I was embarrassed, I was exhausted, I was deeply sad. But I was also relieved, open to change and very ready to learn whatever God might choose to teach me through this experience. And I married a really wise man. Even though he and the rest of my family did not truly ‘get’ what had happened to me, he said this: “You know what, honey. We can’t see what’s coming down the road. Maybe this time away is to get ready for whatever that is.”
Turned out those words were prophetic. After seven months away, I gingerly went back to work, with much clearer boundaries, with a firm commitment to being MYSELF in this job, not someone else, and with a wary but real openness to doing it differently this time around. I will only say that within weeks of beginning anew, most of life as I knew it changed so dramatically that my head kept spinning for about seven years! (I’ve written about some of that in this post: http://www.dianatrautwein.com/2012/08/the-saving-grace-of-work/)
I learned a lot from that five-year stretch of over-work and over-worry that culminated in this crash-and-burn experience. Those seven months of self-examination, quietly sitting in the side waters rather than my usual swimming hard in the center of things — they turned out to be gift upon gift. I did not do everything perfectly afterwards — I still have to fight the urge to be all things to all people or die trying. But I see it now, and I fight it now. I recognize that being uber-competent is not the goal of life; being open to the Spirit is, being true to God’s design in me and for me is, living a life in balance is. I do not believe that God ‘caused’ me to get sick, to collapse, so that I might discover these truths; I bear the full responsibility for the life-choices that brought it all about. But I KNOW that God used that time to teach me, in a tender and deeply personal way, about who I am and about who God is. And for that, I am more grateful than I can say.
Married to her college sweetheart for a very long time now, Diana is a retired pastor, working as a spiritual director, and writing more than she ever dreamed she might. She is daughter to an aging mom with Alzheimer’s, mom to three grown kids, Nana to 8 grandchildren, ages 3-22. She blogs at www.dianatrautwein.com and writes a monthly post at www.deeperstory.com under their Deeper Family umbrella and also monthly at Prodigalmagazine.com.
Over to you:
- Can you relate to that challenge of stopping ‘doing’ so you can ‘be’?
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