Thursday, July 8, 2010

Virtues I don't possess

I caught an angry email today. The message scorched me for taking too long to arrange a requested visit.

My first instinct was human (or at least animal). I wanted to defend myself and critique the tone of the message. But I took a breath and prayed and didn't do that.

Then I wanted to justify myself, to explain reasons why I've been slow to visit. I have to admit, I composed a reply that did some of that.

Then I went back to something I read this week, Gregory the Great's comments on the Biblically-documented fight between Saints Paul and Peter:

"Behold Paul wrote in his letters that Peter was to be blamed; behold Peter in his letters affirmed that Paul was to be admired for what he had written... (Peter) does not remind... that he would be called first of the Apostles, nor that he has received the keys of the Heavenly Kingdom, nor that whatever sins he loosed on earth will be loosed also in Heaven, nor that he he walked on the sea, nor that he had healed paralytics by commanding in the name of Jesus, nor that he had cured the sick by the shadow of his body, nor that he had killed liars by his word, nor that he raised the dead by his prayers. Then lest he scorn to hear the words of rebuke, he repelled it as it were, from memory all the gifts which he had received so that he could firmly grasp the single gift of humility. Who of us, I ask, if he had performed even a very little wonder, when censured by a lesser brother, would patiently listen to the words of rebuke? But we have performed no wonders and if anyone were to rebuke us for our action we immediately become angry, we silently regard ourselves as great, we summon to our spirit virtues, even such as we do not possess."

The email was right. I am failing, badly, to balance family and church obligations, and people are getting hurt and angry. I won't go into all the details because that slips into "summoning to my spirit virtues, even such as I do not possess." I want to explain myself, justify myself and thereby end the matter in my favor - but the matter is not in my favor.

I have not figured out a way, at this point in my life, to balance some unusual family needs with the demands of ordained ministry. A friend got in touch to say that I am having normal mid-life musings - taking stock, realizing that some stuff just hasn't come out the way I would expect, and fretting about what to do with the less-than-half of my life that remains on earth.

I am running on empty when it comes to care giving. I am not some bottomless well of "nice," an image that has served me well over the years. I can't keep up the deception that if circumstances were just a bit more favorable, I'd actually be a bottomless well of nice. My abyss of limitations - my lack of virtue - is plenty deep and real.

I don't even have a nice way to end this piece. I could make an atoning, apologetic visit, but that doesn't end my burn out or conjure up non-existent virtue.

It might be all I can do to say, "The guy was right. I'm not taking care of everybody adequately." And having confessed that, to go in prayer and throw my empty bucket at the One who claims to be the inexhaustible well.


David O'Hara said...

Sorry to hear it, Fr. Tim. Nothing like having someone get angry at you for being human.

I should add, however, that given how cushy your job is (who else only has to work on Sundays?) you've got nothing to complain about. Am I right, or what? (Correct answer: what.)

Scott said...

You have well-deserved sabbatical time to look forward to, and the period immediately prior to your sabbatical may very well be the most challenging. Are you already letting down? :-)

Give yourself a break! The challenges you face in your life would burn out Superman. Can you imagine how an agnostic or atheist makes it through slumps? I can't.

What a joy it must be to see Tim Jr. head off to a GREAT school. It will happen during your time off I think. Make hay while the sun shines my friend.

The Underground Pewster said...

I would send you a supply of "nice" if I had one. May the Lord send you just the right amount of "nice" at just the right times. In between those times, remember that we are praying with you those very same prayers.

Anglikitty said...

Tim, you are probably one of the most diligent guys--in any profession--I've ever met. If we were perfect, we wouldn't need a saviour. So tell that cruel little internal taskmaster whispering in your ear to take a hike!

David said...

Fr. Tim, Please take care of your self and your family. This comes from one who recently has had a too long stay in a mental health unit of a local hospital. Some people will always find a reason to complain, and our pastor should always be available, so of course they will complain. But if you end up ill, you won't be able to help them, your family, or yourself. My prayers are for your health, your family, and your parish.

TLF+ said...

Thanks for these kind comments and support, all.

David (#5) hope you are doing well and that the care you received has good carry over each day. Thank you for being so open. Your empathy is obviously intact and that says good things!

TLF+ said...

David O'Hara - what bait did you use and why couldn't we get the same results in the Hills? Or is that a Canada thing?