What the hell are we supposed to do about people feeling this way? Ministry burnout is so real and it makes God feel too small.
I am in such a strange place, emotionally. It’s been a little over three months since I left professional ministry. People have asked me how I’m doing with that decision. I say the same thing every time.
I don’t know.
I knew it would take some time before the fullness of this transition could take root in my life. These first few months have felt like being on vacation. My mind knows that I am no longer the pastor of a church, but my heart isn’t buying it. Some part of me thinks that any day now I’ll be back in the pulpit.
But I won’t be. I’m not going back. At least not for the foreseeable future. I’ve learned not to say more than that.
I attend Covenant Baptist Church about half the time. Sometimes I sit in silence with the Quakers. Sometimes I go elsewhere. A few Sundays I have spent with Jeanene in blissful laziness, sipping tea or eating a late brunch. It’s so strange for me to be sitting in a diner eating eggs and french toast at 11:00 am on a Sunday. I keep looking around and wondering whose life I’m living.
Like many writers I pay a lot of attention to what’s happening to me emotionally and intellectually. I listen to my mind. I pay attention to my gut. And I’m noticing some strange things are going on with me.
I have a powerful aversion to anyone needing anything from me. I don’t want anyone to need me, apart from my wife and children. I still get emails from people asking my advice. I can hardly open them. I started an online Bible study, did two studies, and then fell apart. I can’t do it. Not now. Maybe someday. I don’t want to give advice. I don’t want to preach. I don’t want to go see people in the hospital. I don’t really want to be around people that much right now, out of a fear that they might start needing me.
It’s not a healthy way to be. It’s not the way I want to be in the long run. But right now that is my reality.
I also have some very negative feelings about the Church. Not the church I was at. I love Covenant Baptist Church. But the larger Church. I don’t want to talk about the Church. I don’t want to read books about the Church. I don’t care if the Church in America is relevant or growing or cutting edge or post-modern. I have almost no interest in the Church.
I’m not sure what that’s about.
I am very interested in God. And I’m interested in my own acts of prayer and devotion. Currently the best spiritual practice I have is mowing the lawn at Covenant and tending our labyrinth. I feel happy doing those things. No one sees the work I do. No one talks to me. No one needs anything from me. It’s pure service, and I love it.
I have also been isolating myself quite a bit. I spend most of my time alone. The contact I have with other people is very limited right now. But that feels good to me. At some point I assume I’ll come back out of my shell.
And then there is this: I’m not sure what affect all of this will have on my writing. For the first time since 2002, I have found it difficult to be interested in writing. I wrote a lot in the first weeks after leaving Covenant. But now my heart and mind and soul are turned toward the difficult task of finding a job. So I’ll continue to peck out a few words here, but I really don’t know what’s going to happen to Gordon Atkinson the writer.