The way You [God] have laid open before me is an easy way, compared with the hard way of my own will which leads back to Egypt and to bricks without straw.
If You allow people to praise me, I shall not worry. If You let them blame me, I shall worry even less. If You send me work, I shall embrace it with joy. It will be rest to me because it is Your will. If You send me rest, I will rest in You. Only save me from myself. Save me from my own, private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement’s sake, to unsettle everything that You have ordained.
Let me rest in Your will and be silent. Then the light of Your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for Your glory. This is what I live for. Amen, amen. (from Thomas Merton’s Dialogues with Silence)
Any pastor who reads the above prayer knows why I titled this post “A Pastoral Prayer.” Merton wasn’t a pastor, but he had a pastor’s heart.
There are a myriad of maladies that plague pastors. I could write a blog per day for a year to cover them all. But as this prayer reveals, one such malady, or disorder if you prefer, is moving for movement’s sake. Not just moving from church to church, but feeling uncomfortable with being settled into a rhythm.
As C.S. Lewis writes in The Screwtape Letters, what is most constant about humanity is its undulation–that is, our inconsistency and wave-like existence. In the words of Katy Perry, we’re hot and cold, yes and no, in and out, up and down, etc. This is truer of pastors than any other collective of people I know.
“Be still” is one of the more difficult commands for pastors. This isn’t to confuse stillness with laziness. There are lazy pastors. I used to be one. But now there’s a sense that I need to move, to do something differently, something new, something edgy.
Why does Merton pray that he won’t worry when people praise him? Shouldn’t that be a source of happiness? A pastor is not exempt from the propensity to crave affirmation. I dare say a good number of pastors live and die by it. That’s why Merton is praying not to worry over praise.
Likewise, he won’t worry over blame–even less, in fact.
The church isn’t growing. The service wasn’t great. The people who played hooky or who were sick weren’t contacted one by one and now they may not come back. Blame. Blame. Blame.
Pastoral negligence is real. And it is prevalent. But if I’m being obedient to God’s way, to His will, and I am resting in that, then the joy of His light warms my heart as I shine for His glory.
That’s what I want to live for.