I am privileged beyond words to be participating in Tanya Marlow’s year-long series on suffering. Tanya is a favorite writer out here on the interwebs and her own story enriches us all. I’d be honored if you’d hop over to her blog to see where this one lands . . .
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. . .