The reflections I shared yesterday are not born out of the heart of somebody trying to escape the responsibility to care for the sheep, just one who wants to live with the responsibility with a degree of sanity. I carry the people I lead on my heart heavily. Even in this long season where I’ve learned so much about holding onto people and things less tightly, loosening my grip on them so the Spirit can have a greater grip on me, some of this comes down to pure calling. It is my job to carry the spiritual weight of God’s beloved sons and daughters on my heart. I claim no other qualifications or credentials in my pastoral work, but this one is a necessity.
So of course I struggle with how to love them and care for them well. I want to be there, in the ways I can be there and should be there–not creating co-dependence on me (the death nail of any local church and the ultimate inhibitor of any form of growth), nor shirking divine responsibility. Especially as the church grows and we do multiple services at different locations, all of this must rightly be re-negotiated. My friend Jim Driscoll always has a way of putting things to me simply. We were talking about this a while back and he told me I should not feel guilty or condemned when I can’t be there for everyone–just simply really be there when I am there. That I can handle, and that’s what I try to do. Not to set up unrealistic expectations for myself or my people, but to be very present when I am in fact present.
A couple of years ago, I read Tony Hendra’s Father Joe: The Man who Saved My Soul, and was deeply moved. Hendra is an interesting and complicated character himself, a British writer and comedian of sorts who palled around over the years with the Monty Python crew. By his own admission, he spent many years in a haze of drink and drugs living a self-consumed life. In recent years, I know allegations have surfaced about his character over those years–and if true, would mean he really did some creepy things. But it would not affect my opinion of the book, as Father Joe is the character you really want to meet anyway.
It is essentially the story of how over many years, starting with when Hendra was a devout child aspiring to the priesthood on through years of rebellion and narcissism, he never gets over the draw of this man–never gets over the sense of holiness he felt when he was in his presence. Father Joe was a man who deeply knew God, and no matter how far this man strayed from the path, Father Joe always remained a beacon. And even when years went between his visits with him, when he came to Father Joe he was always reminded of what is real and true. Most of all, Father Joe was a tangible marker for him that he was loved by God.
There were multiple scenes in the book that made me weep, both because I have known people like him and because I deeply want to be that kind of person for somebody else. The semi-twist at the end of the book is that while Hendra assumes that he has some kind of utterly unique relationship with Father Joe, upon his death he finds out there were hundreds of people (including people of great influence in the UK this unpretentious priest never spoke of or name-dropped) who looked to him the same way. It is a profound story of a father to many prodigal sons, who could not chase them all but always had his porch light on, and was always eager to run off the porch to greet them when they came home. I should not, cannot, will not live on the hunt for every lost soul, as they are too many forests and just one of me. But to embody for sons and daughters what it means to come home, to let them know that they can always come home again and that they will never be rejected? That I can do. I am after all, what of God’s representatives, and if I don’t take that seriously I should really get out of this business.