I have some friends telling me, “Give yourself a break.” Why? Well, I tend to be fairly hard on myself. I tend to be a type “A” personality and feel as if I need to be an overachiever (or am one regardless of what I may feel). I tend to think that I should be able to easily “hold up” and do, do, do… overcome, overcome, overcome… without any downside or downtime.
If I step back for a moment (considering the advice of friends to give-myself-a-break) and consider my life over the past 6-years… well, maybe I should stop, consider, and reflect (kind of like when you catch fire you should “stop, drop, and roll”). I may be on fire. (Not like “the Girl-on-Fire”!)
A number of years ago, close friends of mine gave me a single sheet of paper with words all over it. There were lines and columns of adjectives. They lovingly and sarcastically said, “We’re going to tell you to point to your words – and then you have to.” It seems they thought that I never really talked about me – as in using adjectives – and how I was really doing, going through, or feeling. They were frustrated. I guess it really wasn’t (isn’t) very conducive for people getting to know me, really.
A very close friend of mine, who I rarely see any more, regrettably – distance and all that – has her PhD in community counseling. She is a great listener, but it always frustrated me that she never really talked about herself. So, I know my friends’ frustration!
Well, “giving myself a break” probably means being open with others about what has happened over the past 6-years and accepting that the results on my psyche (and everything else interrelated) just might be real. Well… Of course, what the hell do I need to complain about when considering what the majority of humanity has to endure on a daily basis! I’ve got “first-world” issues, as some would say. Maybe…
I took a job after seminary in NYC in 2006 that I never wanted and had to struggle through every day. It wash good job, with a very good company, and the people I worked with were great! So what’s the problem, right? It was just soul-killing work to do full-time, at least for me. I took the job to stay in NYC for my partner. A reasonable reason. We all have to have our share of sacrifices for the good sake of our beloved.
So, I’m working. Blah. Then, six years ago, I was dumped, unexpectedly and unwantingly. Things were not perfect, of course; they never are. But, I was not expecting it and I was emotionally shocked and hurt, hurt, hurt. Not only that, but I was dumped for another guy that is (still) destructive to my former partner. That makes is doubly hard because I don’t want that for someone I love(d). Co-dependence is an oh so wonderful thing, right? Maybe I’m better without the relationship (that’s what some tell me), but I don’t feel that way… I don’t believe it.
Then, nearly four years ago I was appointed to my dream job! I was amazed, shocked, and thrilled that I was going to be able to do this! Pinch me, really! Do it again because this can’t be true! I began the position in 2010. I took a $20,000 pay cut. That’s alright because I was still making decent money. From my just resigned job (hallelujah – even though I really like my co-workers and the company), I was able to accumulate a really good savings account!
I started me dream job and poured everything into it! It was so exciting, stimulating, and fulfilling. I had a very hard time turning off the job and taking some down time. I was creating something totally new drawn from a lifetime of experience, education, and lots of research and study-groups. I was good at it, and it was succeeding!
A year and a half later the rug was pulled out from under me. The project was being shut down – at least the sponsors’ sponsorship of it. Politics. Lots of opposition from others who thought it was a tremendous waste of dwindling resources that should be directed to their ministries and enterprises (often failing, which is just the reality).
Of course, what I was doing was for the long term, for revitalization, to provide ways and means for them to do their work in newer ways that actually resonate with younger people – their very future. That didn’t matter. They needed the money right NOW, and they couldn’t conceive that what I was doing was to benefit them… just not so much right this second. Of course, it also meant that they would have to change their presumptions and mindset and do things differently in a postmodern, post-Christian reality. It meant (still means) that they give up “old-ways-of-thinking”, which means the ways of thinking of the 1970’s and 80’s. Ouch.
They also didn’t like that I kept pointing out the elephants in the room. Stupid, I know. I’m like that, however – I actually want to deal with things. What else can one do when we have to honestly grapple with why things are not working and we are not succeeding when others are? We have to understand the problems forthrightly and in the glaring light of noonday before we can fix anything. What people generally want, alas, is everything else to change so that what they do and the way they do it magically succeeds.
General Motors, alone 25% of the American economy at the end of the 1970’s, went bankrupt because they lost track of how to make cars that people actually wanted to drive. The Church is not alone. GM is getting better after everything came crashing down, after the tipping point of insolvency. Hopefully, we will, too. It would be nice if insolvency wasn’t necessary, but for us perhaps it is. Sad and shameful, isn’t it? Such a waste of the financial and spiritual patrimony of generations past and their sacrifice.
So, the rug was pulled out from under me. No more money. No more health insurance. No more support, even as I continued to do what I was doing as much as I could without their help, support, or sponsorship (even thought they still will reap a benefits, tangentially). (After asking, they did continue paying for my health insurance after a time and for a year.)
After losing my job, I entered the rolls of the unemployed in the heat of the economic downturn. Wonderful. The next blow was that I wasn’t eligible for unemployment. (IRS rules stipulate that when an ordained person is employed in ministry work, the ministry/employer is not required to pay into unemployment.) Yup, no money. My savings account didn’t last for long. Thankfully, after several months, I was able to secure a very part-time position back with the company I worked for, before. From taking a huge pay cut to do my dream job, complete unemployment that completely drained me of all my liquid assets, to a very part-time job that didn’t quite cover even my rent. Fun.
Unemployed for two years with no unemployment benefits, health insurance for only one of those years, applying for all kinds of positions to no avail. I just heard an NPR piece on the psychological and emotional effects of being unemployed for 6-months. Phhww, what’s 6-months? Wimps!
Can I say how thankful I am for the generosity of my parents and that they are in a position to help me! Even though I bleed through all my assets, lived as simply as I could in NYC, I would never have made it without my parents. Of course, a 50-year old man doesn’t want to think that he is in a position that makes him go back to Mom & Dad for a hand-out (a nearly two year huge hand-out). That was tough… really tough!
Well, thankfully, this past June I secured a full-time job back with the company I worked before and with which I worked part-time this past year. (For the first time, I now honesty understand the peculiar world of clergy compensation and church payroll!) And I am thankful. It is a great company and I like the people I work with. It’s just that what I am good at doing is going completely unused, unutilized, and unappreciated. My skills are not being honed. I’m just a hard worker and good at organizational stuff. I can now support myself, however, and I am very happy about that! It is a tremendous emotional relief.
My former boss at Kent State, where I created the Technology Support office for our new hybrid academic/student services unit, the Vice-Provost and Dean, wrote a recommendation letter to my seminary. He wrote that he thought this endeavor of mine would end up being a “tremendous waste of talent and skill.” He is one of few men that I truly look up to and respect, but I thought he was completely wrong. After all, this reluctant priest-to-be was told repeatedly by those in authority that there is always “a place in the Church for good priests.” Hum.
The bishop under whom I became a postulant seemed to have a high impression of me. He told the new, incoming bishop (co-adjutor), “You don’t want to lose this one.” I was in Ohio for my final candidacy interviews, and I was dumbfounded when he said this. See, my Dean wasn’t right! I tend to not recognize in myself what others seem to – at least according to them. I also don’t use “my words” enough when talking about myself… when interviewing. I also tend to thank that people actually want to improve and fix things. I also tend to be wrong – a lot, it seems.
I’ve come to realize that the Vice-Provost and Dean was probably right. It wasn’t that he was anti-religion, but I realize now that he didn’t believe they would recognize what they actually had in me. I still don’t see it, even though I know I’m good at what ever I do, I’m a quick study, and I’m conscientious. Go figure.
Lots of people fret and complain, “Where was God when I needed him?” Many people say this because they want or expect their concept of God to magically work and make them a rose garden. What God actually promises is that He will be with us through it all. He gives us the charge to go and do and He will give us the strength to do. Never easy, in the midst not emotionally uplifting, but we can endure. When we come out the other end, the other side, exit the tunnel, we are wiser and more honest with ourselves, more patient, more understanding, more kind, more generous, more fully human – as God intends. We are, that is, if we don’t expect God to be a magician that we can manipulate to get our current will.
Within 6-years I was unexpectantly dumped and lost my relationship – the reason I stayed in NYC and for which I worked a job I didn’t’ like. I was given my dream job. I had that dream job unexpectantly yanked away and told to fend for myself. I was unemployed and unable to support myself for two years. At 50, I had to depend on the generosity of my parents. I am in a position in life right now that if I knew this would be where I would end up 11-years later, I never would have entered seminary to begin with – even though I would not want to forgo the experience of my seminary education and formation and the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made along the way.
I’m stressed. I need to give myself a break. I need to understand what the last 6-years have done to me – particularly the last 2-years. It is hard to admit. It is hard to let go. It is hard to let some things end. It is hard to humble myself and not feel compelled to “prove them wrong” about me and the things I’ve discovered and created. I need to “use my word” more forthrightly, and this entry is my attempt.