Dear Ministry Sister,
I’ve had you on my mind all afternoon. I’ve been thinking about how things are for you and what I would want to hear if I was you.
First, I want to say thank you. Thank you for saying yes to the call that led you where you are today. I want you to know that I know the road has been filled with so many things that you didn’t expect, gloriously better than you expected and devastatingly worse than you imagined.
And yet, you’re still here and you’re reading my letter which means you haven’t given up. So again, I want to say thank you.
As you sit on your couch tonight, finally catching your breath after a long day, I know you feel like there is just no more room left inside of you, and ironically, that sense of no more room is also a very empty feeling. It seems as if both cannot be true, but they are. I know.
How do you explain to your friends this overly full, cavernous place inside? How do you begin that conversation?
I bet you’ve risked it, being honest with one friend or maybe a few who have earned your trust. The shared space was sweet, and you let your heart hope that maybe you wouldn’t have to keep feeling so alone. But eventually it came, the betrayal of some sort. Somehow the precious feelings and thoughts you shared leaked into an unsafe space, and you felt the backlash of ministry leadership letting you know that you’d overstepped. Warnings ensued along with questions about your suitability for the role you hold. You promised yourself you’d never make that mistake again.
But alas, your heart is hungry, and without connection and care, it begins to dry up. You are left with a choice, harden up and trouper ahead or live with the ache of both betrayal and abandonment.
You’re not alone there.
You “work” for everyone. Most of the people who fill your life hold some expectations of you. They are your congregation, your donors, and your volunteers, and they are all highly invested in the work you are part of leading. They have opinions, ideas, expectations, desires, needs, and hopes, and they feel a sense of ownership. This makes it impossible for you, my dear. Impossibly hard to breathe, relax, make mistakes, feel tired, feel discouraged, feel angry, feel disillusioned.
And those secrets you hold? Confessions and information that you must keep confidential? These are part of what fill the cavernous space and keep it feeling empty for you. You can’t speak, share, explain, or tell the whole truth. Again, it is an impossible place.
You have learned that raising your voice to speak anything other than what is approved, endorsed, and wanted by those who provide your “oversight” is far too dangerous to your security and leaves you feeling like your family would be at risk. And so, most of the time you swallow your words, wonder what happened to your voice, and ponder how might you do something—anything—different.
For today, know that you are not alone and you are not crazy. I understand this space. I feel certain of the solidarity our eyes would find in one another’s if we were to sit face to face over a cup of coffee or glass of wine.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 35 years, she is mother to five kids, two son in laws and is a pastor’s wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations, and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.