Last Thursday I risked saying to a bunch of clergy colleagues that I didn't feel particularly stressed or pressured. I asked if they felt it was a compulsory part of the job. Cue the suggestions which varied:
1. You do but you simply are not admitting it.
2. You've told me about occasions in your life when things were particularly difficult.
3. I can remember some times when we worked together when you were working outside your comfort zone.
4. Christians are called to carry crosses. It's discipleship.
The last three are true but I guess when things are hard I simply see them as a problem to be solved and not a reason to get stressed. I have, in the past, had a panic attack (more like an adrenaline rush) and a doctor told me to sort my life out so I did. It was good advice. So, I am not stressed now does not mean I have never been. Also, being stressed ought to make you less likely to be so in the future unless you never learn from mistakes.
For four years, 2002-2006, post-panic attacks and with a long-term back problem to deal with, I dropped out of the system, was employed privately by one church to do some specific jobs, and made up my salary by writing freelance two days a week. I had no car and walked everywhere. I got better.
But is the first response correct? To some extent it is and it isn't. It might be semantics. I could change my language tomorrow to that of stress, pressure and over-work. Nothing about the actuality on the ground would alter but I would appear more normal to my colleagues. Appearing normal to my colleagues has never been a thought I entertained for longer than a micro... no it's gone.
I think last Thursday I was trying to do two things. Firstly I was trying to help a colleague who had introduced a discussion and then got faced with a time of quiet where nobody spoke. And I imagined that someone would then say something very bland to get the conversation going so I decided that had to be me but didn't say something bland. Secondly, in admitting that I wasn't that stressed or pressured and didn't wake up every day hating my duties, I was being vulnerable. This is an odd thing to say in the 'caring' professions and nobody else wanted to agree. I don't know if that was because they wouldn't or couldn't.
I sometimes despair. It is not that people are unloving or uncaring. It is just that I, who in effect have devised an emulator to do caring because I don't really care and can't make myself, have built a better machine than the real lives used by the ones who claim they do. Caring as a problem to be solved. I wonder if people think I am a good pastor? I don't really care of course and have, after several attempts at the other way, now set up a church so that the people who do care get to do most of the caring. Brilliant, no?
So this week I had problems but not insurmountable ones. I took a bit of time off to recover from dentistry. I had no day off due to circumstances but that is OK and I will catch it up this week. I managed an evening in with nothing to do and a lunch out with Mrs T. I made some progress on things to do but didn't do everything.
The Bishop of Taunton, speaking to a bunch of clergy a couple of years ago suggested a standard of 'Do a modest day's work and then relax.' It is terribly good advice. A good solid run of not sick, not stressed, generally happy days will achieve far more than those who spend their lives sprinting into brick walls and then needing stitching up.
I am convinced by my own spin. If my clergy colleagues aren't then I wish they would either say so more vociferously or no I won't finish that sentence.