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.