MorningWalk by Tom Ehrich
A Pastor's Painful Question June 21, 2011
The question below touches a painful doubt that many people feel. What would you add to my response?
FAITH Q & A
Q: I am wondering lately if the 'struggle' is worth the effort. The 'struggle' is my professional/denominational struggle as a parish priest to teach, support, encourage the living out of kingdom values of justice, equity and peace. When I look at the seemingly tiny steps God seems to be able to engender through my puny efforts, in my parish, diocese, denomination, local community, not to mention the wider world, I sometimes get to feeling that the whole enterprise of participating in God's mission in the world to bring about reconciliation and peace is a crock. Sometimes I just want to be a part of something bigger - to actually see something like happened with Ghandi in India or the dismantling of Apartheid - so as to know that God is making progress and my efforts really are worthwhile in the grand scheme of things.
A: I imagine that, at one time or another, every pastor could ask your question. So could classroom teachers, parents, addiction counselors, and social workers. Anyone who's trying to help others can feel isolated and overwhelmed, and wonder if the struggle is worth it. That isn't to diminish your quandary, but to say you are in good company, and maybe the first step is to find others in that company.
One enemy, it seems to me, is isolation. Ministry can feel lonely and pointless. In that dark place, it can help to know the pastor down the block is facing the same desolation. And to hear someone else sing, “Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work's in vain. But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”
Another enemy is the sheer immensity of neediness. Lead one person from rage to redemption, and ten more crop up. Sit with one broken soul, and you know a dozen more needed that hour just as much. It can help to know that God isn't asking you to do everything. You have only the one life to give, but God has many other hands willing to do their part.
A third enemy is our need for reward and gratitude. There cannot possibly be enough. So you learn to give without expecting return. Easy to say, hard to do. A breakthrough comes when you feel the joy of having given. That feeling of serenity might come after despair has failed to break you.
Finally, I think all helpers need to break free from the institutional burdens they try to carry. Most of us do our work within institutions, and that's fine. But in the end, we don't serve the institution or carry its weight. We serve God and God's beloved, and we are borne aloft by God's gratitude and love. If the institution gets surly or fails, so be it. God is patient and kind and grateful for all you do.