Alone in the Ministry
Above is a photo of Richard Proenneke. Proenneke is a well-know, self-taught naturalist who lived alone in the Alaskan wilderness for over thirty years, well into his eighties. A documentary (one of my favorites) was made from his videos and written records of his life and adventures. The documentary is called Alone in the Wilderness. I'll come back to Proenneke in a minute...
I had a dream this morning (I have similar dreams from time to time) where I am trying to run a church service in Pastor's absence. Totally unprepared, I was still trying to figure out what I was going to preach. I had a tough time getting people to even listen to me, so I kept trying to raise my voice...which for some reason is a task I really struggle to accomplish in my dreams (okay, a little in real life too). Eventually, I decided the message I was going to preach was about the loneliness in the ministry (Please, let's forget about trying to psychoanalyze this dream for the time being). Thankfully, I woke up and didn't have to watch myself try to stumble throught the sermon with no outline or notes... but the dream really stuck with me all morning.
I began to think of the many times I have heard people in the ministry tell me how lonely the ministry can be. Sure enough, I have watched pastors and assistants grow very lonely and even depressed. I have maybe experienced it a time or two since I've been in the ministry, too, but I have learned a few things that are almost always the case. In trying to explain, I'd like to make a comparison to Proenneke's life.
1. If we don't want to be alone, we have to choose not to be alone.
In the case of Richard Proenneke, being "alone" in the wilderness didn't seem like such a bad thing. We tend to think of being all alone as a terrible thing, but the fact is, being alone can grow on you. I for one love solitude. I'm not so sure I could live without companionship for thirty years (not sure why I would want to), but I love to hike or run on trails alone. I don't mind spending hours working on a project by myself (In fact, I often feel as though I get more accomplished on my own), and I have worked for years cleaning office buildings early in the morning or late at night all by myself with nothing but my work, my thoughts, and quite often some good, old, Bible preaching on my mp3 player.
But I have to admit. I sure am glad I get to come home after work or after a nice long run and sit down at the table and eat dinner with my family. I'm glad for every opportunity I get to share with anyone who will listen as small sample of all the things that have been going through my head in my time spent alone. I'm glad for some interaction with people, honestly, even if it is just a comment on my Facebook post or a text message from a friend of family member. I'm not sure I could handle solitude without the comfort of knowing companionship is there whenever I want it.
2. We have to realize the dangers of staying alone.
First of all, let me scold myself and Mr. Proenneke for a second. Avoiding people for our own pleasure is selfish, plain and simple! There are people who need us, no matter how much we feel like they don't. Proenneke may not have had a wife or children, but most of us in the ministry do. There is simply no excuse for us to isolate ourselves from them for long periods of time when we have a responsibility to invest time and energy in them (and I'm not talking about going off to Alaska for thirty years, I'm talking about avoiding conversations and finding every opportunity to get away from people so we can be by ourselves). This is not just selfish, but it is dangerous on many levels. Our marriages require us to be good companions, our relationship with our children require it, and our ministries require it.
Now, if we enjoy the solitude, there is certainly nothing wrong with getting a way an hour or two...or even a day or two... It can be great for our spiritual, mental, and physical health. I strongly recommend it. But we must remember our responsibilities are to others first, not to ourselves.
3. We can't be too picky about our companions.
But let's say we never asked to be alone. Let's say we desire companionship but it just doesn't seem to be available. Maybe our personalities don't seem to match others. Maybe people just don't seem to like what we like or the things we care about don't seem to be a priority to them. My advice here is simple--we need to quit being picky about who our companions are. We need to allow them to have their annoying quirks (trust me, we have ours!). We need to allow them to not understand things we think they should understand (we don't understand all the things they think we should understand either). In short, we need not be "perfectionists." Perfectionism is just a figment of the imagination. We determine in our own minds what perfection is...even though others have a completely different view of what perfection is. We need to just decide to be a companion and to accept the campanionship of others despite our differences (of course, I'm not talking about hanging around those who would lead us away from following Christ).
In conclusion, yes, I suppose the ministry can feel quite lonely. We can sometimes feel like we are the only ones left who want to serve the Lord...but we aren't. We can feel like we are shouting at the top of our lungs and no one is listening...but some are. We might feel like no one wants our company, but I guarantee there are plenty who could use it, whether they know they want it or not.
May the Lord bless you, and may your passion for minstry grow as you addict yourself to it (1 Corinthians 16:15).
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