As a pastor I feel a strong responsibility to ‘be there’ for people. That’s not a bad instinct, but sometimes I can’t. It is easy to feel as though I should do whatever it takes for the people God has called me to serve. Strong theological themes like ‘sacrifice,’ ‘servanthood’ and ‘self-expenditure’ come to mind. But then there are other messages like self-care so I am there for the rest of the flock, not just the one that is lost. I also believe that the ministry I’m called to give myself away for is more than my role as pastor of a church. My larger ministry includes first of all my family. If I give everything to someone in my congregation who is hurting, who calls out to me, what about myself and my family? Dilemmas of limits and boundaries versus trusting God in all things challenge me.
Paul is oft quoted for saying he had become “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9.22) and maybe he did… few people gave as much as consistently as Paul, but are we all called to be Paul? And didn’t he lose his temper with some congregations and groups? Didn’t he refuse to stay and care for nascent congregations in order to fulfill his larger role in ministry as an apostle, leaving others to stay, care and nurture?
Jesus wasn’t the person for everyone either. He healed and ministered to many, but not everyone. He taught, he healed, he moved on. I suppose he didn’t give up on the Jewish authorities, but he sure didn’t lose any sleep over their inability to figure out who he was. I note that Jesus didn’t chase Nicodemus down, just messed with his mind (spirit) when Nicodemus kept coming back for more. Jesus even walked away from Nazareth concluding that a prophet just isn’t going to ‘be the one’ for his hometown (Mt 13.54ff).
It’s complicated, but I don’t think I can or should be everything any one person needs at all costs.
I still struggle with the tension between giving of myself without measure and drawing the line saying I can’t do it, but I am also growing in my appreciation that it is a mark of spiritual/personal maturity to discern the difference and act accordingly. It also drives me forward on intentionally crafting a community made in which people will, all in all, be there for each other. I don’t assume responsibility to be the one for everyone or anyone else, rather I assume responsibility that the culture, systems and support are there so that we can be the sort of community where the right person will be there to be the one.
Huh, not at all what I expected from the post title. This is an important lesson you identify, though – a trap into which so many (myself included) fall. I think it’s like on the airplane when they say ‘put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others’, because, well, you’ll be very little use to anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself along the way. So hard to find the line, though! When have you done “enough” when there’s always something more to be done? How does one find peace amidst that… maybe “incompleteness” is the word? (those were mostly rhetorical, but maybe they can be fodder for a sermon some day)