It seems like every pastor I know has a fantasy scenario for what they would do if they weren't a pastor. "Fantasy" might not even be the right word for it, because the jobs they envision sound far from fantastic. My chaplain friend Jason wants to get a job at Costco. My pastor friend Kirk dreams of selling shoes at Nordstrom. I know another guy who wants to be an accountant. Me? I want to work at a winery.
What do these less-than-fantasy jobs have in common? They require little intellectual or emotional expenditure. Jason says that he just wants to be somewhere where he doesn't have to enter into someone's pain everyday and listen intently. Kirk wants a job where he doesn't have to think and yet can make decent money. I want to retreat into the back of a barrel room and never be heard from again.
If you were to really press us about how happy we would be in that job, we would probably admit we would make it about a month before we were miserable. But that first month would be sweeeet. I think that people who do not work in helping professions (not a criticism) have a hard time understanding just how exhausting and painful it can be for those of us who do. Sometimes it feels like we never get to leave this raw, emotional place, where there are more questions than answers (if we're good at our jobs) and where hope, faith, and love seem quieter than pain. When that happens over a long period of time, we get what's called "compassion fatigue," which is a condition marked by deep sadness, lethargy, and callousness. Compassion fatigue is a inevitable by-product of our work, and it strikes all of us from time to time.
I would never advise anyone to make a career or a big life decision in a time of compassion fatigue. The Ignatian word for compassion fatigue is "desolation" and the spiritual masters always caution against changing courses while in desolation. That period of desolation could become a lot longer if you did find yourself selling shoes at Nordstrom.
The fact that pastors all have their fantasy jobs locked and loaded might point to a few ideas for caring for ourselves in ministry:
1. Take regular vacations, and when you do get away from all communications with church members. Also, set yourself up for success on vacation. For example, don't vacation with people who regularly create more tension in your life than peace.
2. Seek counseling or spiritual direction. You need people who will pour into you, who will be present with you regularly who do not seek anything from you.
3. Find things in your life that are mindless. Find the Costco job of your mind. Vacuum every square inch of the house. Take naps. Take your mindless dog for a walk. See how many times you can bang your head against the wall before it really starts to hurt.
4. Do things that aren't ministry. There is more to you than being a pastor. No, seriously, there is more to you than being a pastor. Put yourself in a place where people don't look to you as a pastor, and don't even care that you are one.
Pastors, what is your mindless fantasy job? What do you think it says about you and your ministry?