Periodic change saves us from becoming stuck in our lives and ministry
Recently, I was called to the Family Birth Center at our local hospital to offer pastoral care to a couple. After praying with this couple, I made my way to the elevator. Because it is a secure location, the nurse had to use her key to press the elevator for me. She left and then the doors closed. The elevator then made its descent. It stopped at the emergency room level, where I had entered, but the doors never opened. It was stuck. I did not have my cellphone. For 10 minutes, I cried out for help. I even pressed the emergency button but nothing happened.
Thankfully, a worker heard my cry and came to the rescue. I then went on with the rest of my day. Subsequently, however, I took to prayer that first-time experience of being stuck. The more I thought about it, the more I came to see it as a metaphor of how we sometimes can become stuck in our life and ministry as priests. Perhaps this metaphor was made all the more real by virtue of the fact that being stuck happened in a time of transition for me: I was finishing an assignment and waiting to embrace a new one.
Have you ever felt stuck in your priesthood? There are many ways in which we can become stuck. When I look at my own priesthood, I believe that there are at least three ways I have allowed myself to be stuck as a priest.
The first way is hurt. I have a tendency to take things personally. When this happens, I make it all about me and deviate from the path of discipleship. Priesthood is not for the faint of heart. We will inevitably get hurt. Sometimes, it hurts, even more, when there is friendly fire. Somehow, we have to move beyond the hurt and heal. For that to happen, we need to acknowledge the hurt in prayer, spiritual direction or with the person who hurt us. Part of this, too, involves becoming like John the Baptist and being able to pray, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).
Another way we can become stuck as priests is through disillusionment. As a young priest, I remember entering my first parish with great expectations, only to discover that so many of them were not realized. For a while, I became stuck. Eventually, I had to let go of the disappointment. I had to embrace the disappointment and carry the cross. I needed to view it not as a stumbling block, but as a stepping stone to a deeper relationship with Jesus and his Church.
Finally, fear is another way we priests can become stuck. In fact, fear can be paralyzing. There are many fears that come with ministry — fear of failure, fear of being alone, fear of loss. One of the bigger fears we all face is that of being loved. Sometimes, this fear can plunge us into a perpetual state of trying to please people in the hopes that they will love us. Of course, our lives must always be about pleasing God and becoming “the pleasing aroma of Christ” to others (2 Cor 2:15).
Perhaps the greatest fear we all face is the fear of change. There is something very comfortable with familiarity and sameness. Many of us find it secure. And yet, the longer we stay in this state of complacency and mediocrity the more likely we are to become stuck.
Because we are often governed by a sense of nostalgia, we can become even more stuck to the point that we make the rearview mirror bigger than the front window. Memories are wonderful, but we all have to move on by living each day in the present moment. To live is to change. Is it any wonder we hear in the Scriptures so often the phrase, “Do not be afraid.”
Someone once said, “Change is painful but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t want to belong.” As challenging as it is to love and leave God’s people and embrace a new assignment, this mystery of periodic change saves us from becoming stuck in our life and ministry. The move saves the people of God, too.
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.