In Plato's Republic we are greeted by the Allegory of the Cave. The cave is the place where ignorant men remain ignorant about the true nature of the world. The cave really isn't a good place, as the Good is something outside of the cave. Much more could be said about this little parable.
Suffice it to say we don't want to live in caves. They are dark. They are lonely. They isolate us from the warmth and clarity of the sun.
Being in vocational ministry is an isolating place. It can often feel like being in a cave.
It may not be the most isolating vocation, but it has to be one of them. I'm sure being a doctor, psychotherapist, or mortician may all be equally demanding emotionally and spiritually. However, I only know my experiences related to professional ministry.
Sometimes you have weeks that seem like they aren't going to end. The apparent setbacks pile on top of each other as if they have a personality and are eager to bury you. At times like this, ministry can feel like a dank, dark cave on an island in some forgotten, arctic sea. Every time you feel like you deal with the next gust of chill wind, another one comes to knock you down.
So, how do I deal with it?
1. Christ alone.
If I value myself, my work, or my relationship to any of it by the outside factors (i.e. the setbacks) then I'm stuck in the cave and I'm never getting out. Every time one of these things hits me, I realize it's time to pray. One of the simple prayers that brings me back into the presence of Christ is St. Patrick's shield or breastplate prayer:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I also pray for mercy based upon the sinner's plea in Luke 18:13. This leads me to my next point.
I'm a sinner saved by God's grace. God didn't need to love me, but He chose to because of His nature. This changes everything. "My" ministry isn't mine because even my life isn't mine anymore. I am Christ's- redeemed by Him and for Him.
3. Reinvigorated clarity.
When setbacks inevitably occur in ministry, it helps me to clear away the cobwebs of distractions and ambiguous purpose. I am in ministry to help equip believers grow in Christ and introduce others to Christ. Anything that hasn't helped with this dual purpose is not worth pursuing.
4. Talking it out.
Finally, I spend time with other believers who I can share my struggles with in a healthy way. Staying positive and staying away from gossip are two of the marks of healthiness within these relationships. It doesn't mean I pretend everything is OK. It does mean we communicate clearly, assertively, and with grace.
Of course, there are things I will never be able to share as far as details or names of those things getting me down within ministry. This would be a breach of trust. However, I can and should share how I am doing and whether I am trusting Christ. This type of mutual confession is good for the soul and good for the church.
This post helps remind me of my own calling as a disciple and as a minister. I guess I couldn't sum it up better than Paul as he reminded the Roman church to work out their interpersonal stuff with love.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Time to let Christ drag me on out of this cave and into the sunlight. Let's overcome some evil today.