Guest blog: “This morning I wish I was a smoker” by Amanda Martin
I do not even claim to be the best writer in my own household.
I find my wife’s art infinitely more interesting than my own. Last night, she read this piece to me before we went to bed. I loved it so much. So raw, so funny, and such an accurate depiction of the weird madness that really does come around our house most EVERY weekend. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a pastor speak to this phenomenon, though I’m assuming many would resonate with it. It is indeed taken from the trenches of this very weekend. I could of course simply steer you to her blog, where I’m happy she is collecting her musings. But I like this so much, I insisted on stealing it for my own as well. I hope you enjoy.
It’s a strange thing to admit, but when I opened my eyes this Sunday morning, the first thought that popped into my head was, “I wished I smoked.”
Being a pastor’s wife tests my spiritual character hourly. As I bemoaned (okay, maybe grumbled) to a dear friend this morning who works on staff at the church, vocational ministry requires not just dedication and excellence to performing well under stressful circumstances at high stakes but doing this while being constantly loving and dedicated to the people with whom you are working. In a secular job, you may well have high stress and big consequences to your work, but there is not the expectation that you need like, let alone LOVE your coworkers. (Christian expectations of neighbor-loving aside, you know what I mean.) Thankfully, I do love all of our staff members at Renovatus and find them easy to both love and work with. So no, its not the company I keep that made me consider turning to nicotine.
When you think of ministry stress, you might think of how difficult it must be sharing in people’s grief, counseling them in the most difficult circumstances of their lives. Or you may think of the schedule, being available almost all the time for emergencies, crises, and meetings. Or you may cite the public nature of the life, the “fishbowl” the pastor’s family inevitably find themselves in. I am what is known as an expressive introvert so these things do wear on me. But no, although these carry their own stress, I knew enough about this job to anticipate these and find a kind of energy from and grace for them. As drained as I may be, I never feel like I need a cigarette after a discipleship meeting or even the rounds of Sunday mingling.
No, the moments like this morning, moments when lips that have literally never touched tobacco mouth something like “I wish I smoked” are more the result of what I have learned to identify as “The Raven.” Those familiar with Poe’s poem will remember the black bird that comes “tapping, tapping, tapping” at the chamber door at midnight to torment the speaker with the kind of annoying disorientation that is only possible at night. You see, it’s not the crisis that takes me down. I’m wired for that. It’s the annoyances. Not just garden variety annoyance though that can be dark enough. With a chance that some of my readers may be completely put off by my forwardness, I am referring to a kind of perpetual maniacal pecking, something like Poe’s raven at the window that comes into the room specifically to spook and annoy you.
For me, the Raven comes at some pretty consistent times. Mainly, as you may guess in a ministry house, on Saturday.
This weekend was fairly normal. After an enjoyable Friday night with family, we were on our way home Saturday when what began as petty bickering turned into an hour long intense marriage analysis (one of those fights where our dog Cybil crawls under something and looks like we’ve been beating her). With that resolved, we find ourselves rushing to be at the Saturday night service at Renovatus Little Rock on time (we make it) and return home to find that our air conditioning has yet again unexplainably stopped working. (The last time it did this was also the weekend. After moving house for two days, my dad found that the a/c had tripped its breaker. Again, no reason was found.) By this point the temperature in the house is reading 80 and the dog is panting and looking at me like I’m an idiot for not doing something. This is at about 11 pm. We settle into bed with a fan when suddenly Jonathan begins to feel itchy and within thirty minutes has broken out in welts on his arms. Afraid more that it might be contagious than compassionate I am now sleepy and must evaluate whether or not I should move into a room without a fan to sleep. I encourage him to take a shower, decide I’m too tired to relocate and probably already have whatever it is anyway, and try to relax instead of worry that Cybil is overheating and that we all probably have scabies. As if I hadn’t heard enough of “Lenore,” Jonathan decides to tell me in this moment that a stressful financial situation we have been dealing with for five months has still not been resolved. In the background, I could almost hear the Raven squawking, “Nevermore!”
Now I realize that everybody has these kinds of trials. In isolation, hey maybe corporately, they are not that big of a deal. But you must understand that I have lost count of the number of times that after a quiet, seemingly safe week, weirdness will strike on a Friday or Saturday night, when our minds are on other things and we’re too tired to think clearly or respond responsibly. And in my spiritual maturity, I say things like, “I wish I were a Wal-mart greeter. How much simpler life would be.” Or in my more worn down states, “I wish I could smoke a cigarette.”
As you, my loving readers, have guessed by now, what I’m longing for in those moments is just a “normal,” some physical action that can symbolize stability, an automatic I can shift into when the gears feel stripped. It’s also in these moments when the spiritual disciplines or lack of them in my life come into sharp focus.
You see the Raven, whichever one is annoying me that week, isn’t the problem. He’s just doing his job which is primarily to discourage me and annoy to the point that I am willing to give up. He can’t destroy me. He can only annoy me. But he can do that until, not unlike the speaker in Poe’s poem, I am so filled with hopelessness, despair, and self-loathing that I give up. He’s going to keep saying “Nevermore” to me. That’s what his Uncle Screwtape told him to do. It’s his assignment. It’s also his “tell.” And I’m thankful for that. And this strategy is most effective when I am alone and fatigued. Alone and fatigued. These are the moments that I want to shut the doors and blinds, smoke a cigarette, remain completely still and quiet and hope the world will just forget I exist. And if I were to fall to this temptation, I would indeed cease to do so.
So today, my parishioners and loved ones will be glad to know that I did not take up smoking. Instead, I went to Renovatus Fort Mill where an incredible community of eccentric and adorably loving people made me more thankful than I have ever been that I am alive and do what I do, where my husband spoke with such passion and cast an amazing vision for the future of this group of pilgrims, where I am was reminded that I have a share in the most important job in existence and I am altering the course of the earth.
But before I go reactionary in the other direction, it does me good to remember that this morning, I wanted to smoke. But rather than listen to the Raven, I will listen to the voices of hope around me, the new voices of my community who never thought they would find a church like this . . . the voice of the Church singing “Strength for Today and Bright Hope For Tomorrow, Blessing all Mine, With Ten Thousand Besides” . . .the voice of the Spirit, the dove who sings not louder but truer than the Raven, singing of hope and peace, a voice that rings with a constant promise of . . . “Evermore!”