01 October 2008

Struggle of Vocations

At the encouragement of brother Stuckwisch, I would like to ask a question to the esteemed brothers of this blog. But first, I would like to say it is an honor to be asked and included in/on this blog. I have very much enjoyed reading the past and current posts. I also have to confess after reading some of them I am a little intimidated at the caliber of Pastors, thinkers, and debaters. With that out of the way here is my question. My wife, Keri, and I have been blessed with triplet girls. Keri has been relocated to Fort Wayne out of concern for her health and the triplet’s health. She is doing well thus far and so are the triplets. The congregation I serve is about an hour and half away from Fort Wayne. I am struggling with my God given vocations as Husband, Father, and Pastor. The members of St. Matthew have been more than supportive and understanding though all of this so far. The issue(s) I am having is simply that I am struggling to feel I am living up to my vocation as Husband, Father, and Pastor. When I am home I am watching my almost two year old daughter, and living like a single parent. Again St. Matthew has been nothing but wonderful. When I am Fort Wayne I feel guilty for not being in Hamlet fulfilling the duties of the office, when I am in Hamlet, I feel guilty for not being with my wife who is on bed rest and can do little to nothing for herself. I know there is God’s holy absolution for my consciences, and I am free in Christ to serve my wife, my daughter, and congregation. I also know that I am only human and fall short of all that is given to me to do in any and all vocations. How do we as Pastors sort out our vocations in service to God and neighbor through all of life’s situations?

11 comments:

revalkorn said...

Brother,

I hope you'll forgive an "un-listed" brother for sticking his nose in. My situation is not nearly as extreme as yours. Yet I struggle with vocation as well. I'm a husband, father, son, pastor . . . and in addition, I have a day job outside the ministry. When I'm at work, I feel like I should be home with my wife and helping with the twins and our oldest, not to mention feeling like I should be pastoring (if you'll pardon the horrible English). When I'm home, I think I should be doing more at work, and I should also be reading more theology and working to keep my theological juices flowing--and I feel guilty for thinking about those things when I should be enjoying my time with the wife and kids. When I'm filling in as a pastor, I feel like I'm not giving my best to my day job or my family. I barely talk to my parents--not because I don't love them or even dislike them, but there's just too many time demands.

I've resolved to be where I am--that is, when I'm pastoring, to be the best pastor I can be. When I'm at work, be the best administrator I can be. When I'm home, be the best husband and father I can be. And I try to set aside some time every once in a while to be the best son I can possibly be. And you're right--absolution is such a blessing in this situation.

My resolution won't work exactly for your situation, of course. Heck, it doesn't exactly work for mine, either. At the risk of sounding like Mr. Miyagi, the best we can do is strive for some sort of balance.

I'll look forward to seeing what the more mature brethren have to say.

Rev. Peter C. Bender said...

Dear Brother Wright,
My first contribution to the blog since its inception is a response to your struggle on vocation. You can judge whether or not it is a curse or a blessing. You have touched on an area that concerns me greatly. Let me say this, first, to you: You are a free man in Christ! There is no condemnation for you, for you are in Christ Jesus and His righteousness covers all your sin and inadequacies. Furthermore, you were called to be a husband and a father by the grace of God and not because of any merit or worthiness on your part. Therefore, it is going to be God's free grace in Christ alone that sustains you. You have also been called and ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry by grace alone and not because of your talents, abilities, or merits and it is the grace of God in Christ that shall sustain you in that calling or you won't be sustained at all. When we speak of our vocation as Christians we almost always look at our calling in terms of the Law--What I am supposed to do, my responsibilities and obligations. This is NOT the foundation of our vocation. Vocation is first and foremost a reference to the call of the Gospel and how each of us is called to live by faith in the grace of God in Christ wherever He has placed us in this world. This means that the strength of our vocation is in the call to live by faith in the Gospel, rather than a call to live by faith in the Law or in how well I am living up to the "obligations and responsibilities" of my office. The truth is, we all fall short daily. Our joy, comfort, strength to persevere, and freedom come from the Gospel alone and never from the Law or our own accomplishments. What this means, practically, for you is that if your congregation supports you in love during this difficult time (because of their faith in the Gospel I might add), God be praised! Serve, therefore, as you are able with no pangs of conscience. And, if your wife, also, supports how you are able to tend the flock, watch over the children, and see to her needs while she lays pregnant in Fort Wayne (something that she, too, is able to do because she believes the Gospel), then God be praised! Serve your wife and family as you are able. The bottom line is this: the Gospel sets us free to do what we can within our vocation and to commend the rest to God. Indeed, we commend it all to God in Christ since He is the one who has placed us into our respective offices in the first place. Vocation is chiefly about where God has called us to live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself to us. For your comfort and encouragement I urge you to reread Luther's, "The Freedom of a Christian." I don't think we can reread that little tract enough. Finally, give thanks to God that He gives you the opportunity to live by faith in His grace in the midst of seemingly unbearable circumstances. When you get home at the end of a day, or return in the evening after visiting your wife who is pregnant with three little babies that you don't deserve, drink a beer and give thanks to God for His mercy and grace by which you stand righteous and by which you lack nothing.

wmc said...

I would like to add my hearty "Amen" to what Peter has written. Vocation is a gift of grace, not some onerous burden. Peter has rightly and eloquently reminded us that we are free men in Christ.

I would add the following thought. Vocation is the offering of our bodies in the form of our work, worship, and play as a spiritual sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable through His mercies which are in Christ Jesus (Rom 12:1-2). We are called to serve our neighbor in a variety of capacities, whether husband, father, pastor, son, citizen, etc. What we are given to do at any particular moment, and whom we are given to serve at that moment, is our calling. And it will be most fulfilled as we give that task, that person, our undivided attention and energy. Everything else can wait, trusting that the Lord will provide.

So when you are with your family, at that moment, forget about your congregation. They are in the Lord's hands, and you are not their Savior. When you are working to provide for your family, you are doing your vocation as husband and father; put everything else out of your mind. The Lord will take care of the rest. When you are visiting a shut-in or preparing a sermon, put everything else out of your mind and enjoy the moment for the blessing that it is.

One of the tricks the devil plays with us is guilting us into thinking we should be doing something else. I should be doing this, I should be reading that, I should be visiting so and so. Fie on that! Don't let the devil rob you of the joy of the task at hand.

Reformationalist said...

Thanks to Peter and, even moreso, to William. I'm sure that most of those who stop by this little corner of cyberspace can relish your comments as the purest, most liberating, Gospel.

However, the "most of those" being comforted by grace -- what about the rest of us?

I speak for and behalf of those of us who are ADD/ADHD. Thank God (and, boy, do I mean that thanks), they hadn't invented ADD/ADHD when I was a kid. But just because it wasn't invented doesn't mean that it wasn't there. It's just that, if they did then what they do now, I would have grown up in a drugged out stuper, and who knows, I might have ended up an engineer! All through my school days I was yelled at by teachers -- "Sit down!" "Sit still" -- as my feet where always moving, I was chewing the erasers off of #2 pencils, literally following the pattern of "Stand Up! Sit Down! Write! Write! Write!" And NOTHING came to inspire me, until the very last moment. It wasn't procrastination with me, it was waiting for the flash, the insight, the Aha! of creative juices. And so, to avoid being fired -- or, later, defrocked -- I and my fellowe ADD/ADHD-ers multi-task, so we can jump from one thing to another, hopefully getting at least SOME of those things done in a given period of time.

So, now, William -- mister Master of the Gospel (and you truly are!) -- tell me/us something that frees US, vocationally, by God's good news!

Robert.
Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP
reformationalist@gmail.com

wmc said...

Bob - You didn't read between the lines. I quite identify with your experience at the "sit still and pay attention" form of education that was invented in the age of industrialization to make a compliant work force.

So what to do with those of us who of restless imaginations and wandering minds? Permit me to embellish. Embrace the mess, I say. Leave the neat desks for the McCain's of this world. A modicum of self-discipline where necessary to keep from being fired or defrocked, along with a healthy dose of enjoyment of the task at hand, even if it's only for the next five minutes.

Along with the mess, you must also embrace mediocrity, since being a vocational jack of all trades means that one will likely be a master of none. Once embraced, one can delight in the diversity of experiences - for me, chemistry, mathematics, photography, music, scuba diving, woodworking, tropical fish, skiing, bicycling, and yes, somewhere under the third pile on the left, theology. And don't you dare make me feel guilty over that. I simply refuse in the name of Jesus.

Sadly we live in the day of the specialist where "vocation" means doing but one thing. This has been disastrous to medicine as well as theology and life in general. Give me a Renaissance man over a modern specialist any day.

Finally, one must drop dead to the tyranny of goal-oriented, purpose-driven drivel. If Eccelesiastes teaches us anything, it's that the goal doesn't mean squat if you don't travel the road with fear, faith, and a decent bottle of wine.

On this subject of vocation, I would heartily recommend"An Offering of Uncles - The Priesthood of Adam and the Shape of the World" by Robert Farrar Capon. This can be found in a trilogy entitled "The Romance of the Word" (Eerdmans 1995).

wmc said...

A further thought:

You know what all this guilt is? Paralysis! You don't do one thing because you should be doing another thing so you don't do anything and you feel guilty about it. And the devil laughs over the whole religious thing.

Usually when I feel pressed about something, I go and mow the lawn.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

Brother Cwirla-
thanks for the great comments. The other day when I was in paralysis mode, I told my wife, "I am going to play golf." There is a cheap Cook County Forest Preserve course down the street. So this works out well. Tomorrow, I am going to buy a new shotgun for fun times with some of the brethren later on in the fall as we seek to put food on the table. Such things bring an ease to the mind I think. Prof. Senkbeil encouraged such pursuits at our pastoral conference last spring; engaging in things having nothing at all to do with the Holy Office. Of course wives have to be willing to let the menfolk play.

So perhaps Brother Wright along with all the good advice that has been given already the word that might sum it all up is - Chill. But Cwirla is the California guy so he should have said it.

B. Ball

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

To the above comments I can merely say "amen." I would also like to add another point of emphasis: you will not live up to all the responsibilities of your vocation. While the most important point is to hear the absolution and rejoice in it so that you can simply serve "in the moment," so to speak, the other side of the coin is that your calls in this world will always exceed your ability to fulfill them. This is, so to speak, by design. You are not "supposed" to be able to fulfill your vocations in this world, because this would tempt you to forget Christ. You are not able to love your wife, feed His sheep, raise up your children in the fear of God, or, for that matter, be a dutiful citizen, and so your vocations continue to remind you of this.

But this is not the reminder of the devil, who does accuse and try to work guilt in you. Rather, it is the reminder that Christ is in you accomplishes His will. It is the reminder to flee to Christ because His grace is sufficient for you.

Note that Brothers Cwirla and others are not saying that by simply resisting the devil and not thinking about everything you could be doing that you will actually accomplish everything perfectly. In fact, Brother Cwirla said something about being prepared for mediocrity. This is a personal mediocrity that rests in the perfection of Our Lord, who has not made you Lord, has not made you the only one in your family with faith, and has not given only you the call to preach the gospel. You and I are mediocre, but Christ is not. Rather, just as our callings overwhelm us, so Christ fills all things and sends more and more to carry out their vocations, and by this does indeed carry out his will. It is accomplished not just through you, yet it is accomplished nevertheless.

ptben said...

Would you allow an ADHD layman to comment? I would ring a loud amen to all the comments posted. The devil is quite crafty in taking our mind off of the Gospel. I have recently struggled with some unfortunate job circumstances. I hate coming home and burdening my wife and kid with my job struggles. I worry...am I doing my vocation as spiritual leader to my family when we miss a family devotion. I've even struggled in my vocation of citizen trying to 'figure' out the election (actually figuring out why some Christians vote the way they do).

I say all this to say thank you Pastor's for doing your job and pointing me to the Cross and Christ. May God give you and me strength in our vocations.

Bryan said...

Thanks brothers!

I've never posted here before but I just wanted to say thanks for the very good news. I’ve been struggling with similar concerns of late. Thanks especially to Pastors Bender and Cwirla for the good word.

I hope you will forgive me if I ask a question about another vocational struggle I have been having of late: Where would you guys point a brother who is struggling to understand a faithful Lutheran position on the Doctrine of the Call (Office of the Ministry) especially in light of its current treatment among American Lutheranism. Is there a good teacher on this past or present who you would point me to?

And if this is too off topic for this post, please email me directly at bryan.lindemood@gmail.com

Again thank you. Glory be to Jesus for the gift of such freedom!

Rev. Wright II said...

Dearest Brothers,

Thank you so much for the comfort of the Gospel and the support of the brethren! I take great comfort in hearing your words of grace and freedom in Christ our Lord.
Brother Bender, I am in the middle of “The Freedom of the Christian” this is the second time I have read it but this time I get to read it for myself and not for a class which is very enjoyable. Luther goes wonderful with a Shiner Bock!
Brother Cwirla, thank you also for your words of comfort! I really like the idea of being a Renaissance man instead of a modern specialist.
I do have to say after reading the comments I have left my guilt at the cross, confessed my sins, and have very much enjoyed serving my wife, daughter, and congregation wherever I am.
A sincere Thanks to all of you!