Recovering Identity

“The antidote to exhaustion is not rest, it’s wholeheartedness.” – David Whyte.

This simple yet profound statement has captured the imaginations of The Ministry Collaborative (TMC) staff since we discovered it last spring. At that time, we were all new to pandemic life and experiencing the unending exhaustion that seemed to be synonymous with the pandemic itself. While much has changed since then, the experience of overwhelming exhaustion by clergy remains unchanged, therefore, we decided to put this declaration to the test.

We are currently wrapping up Wholehearted: Transformative Leadership in a Broken World, a successful 6-week virtual cohort of 20 pastors who took a journey of discovery focused on the themes of identity, sabbath, justice, and paradigm shifts through the lens of wholeheartedness. The time has been well spent and has served as a deep well of life-giving connection and energizing reflection.  For the next several weeks our staff will give you the “ten cent tour” as we reflect on some of the insights and voices that have guided our time together.

Brene’ Brown defines wholehearted living as:

“engaging our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”

According to David Whyte this sense of “enoughness” or wholeheartedness has the power to cure our malaise and exhaustion. While I don’t think wholeheartedness necessarily prevents exhaustion, I do believe it transforms it into something useful and energizing. No place is this more evident to me than in the area of recovering identity.

We began this exploration of identity by reading these words found in the first chapter of Jeremiah.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (v.5)

This passage served as a foundational source as we defined our identity not by what we do but by who we are and more accurately, who we were when God conceived us in God’s mind. Like Jeremiah, our essence consists of God’s knowing us and God’s purpose for us, which existed prior to our vocation. As clergy it is so easy to get focused on the vocation of ministry and our particular ministry context that we often lose sight of our unique identity, purpose and calling in Christ. After all we have all experienced moments where we feel the pull between what “they” (our congregations/ boards/etc.) expect of us and who we really are and often what they need.
Whether we are young in age or experience and feel compelled to hide our youthfulness and enthusiasm to appear more experienced to reassure “them”.

Whether we as women downplay our femininity so we won’t be perceived as weak or emotional so “they” will accept our leadership.

Whether we conform our theology, ideology and/or political perspective to appease “them” allowing them to be comfortable.

Whether we shy away from activities/issues that we’re passionate about because we don’t want “them” to see us as controversial.

Each one of us at some point and time has to decide if we will lean into the unique gifting and call that God has placed on our lives or succumb to the pressure to be what “they” want, need or expect. In 1975 the O’Jays sang the song “Give The People What They Want”. The song talked about the “people’s” desire for change and leaderships inability to give it to them. As we experience this period of dislocation many churches are struggling with change and their desire to remain the same, while we as leaders are discerning the apocalyptic nature of this moment and the need for change. This time we are often the ones wanting change amid people who are resistant.

We have tried to give the people what they want yet we are exhausted, and our churches are struggling to stay relevant and to survive. Perhaps we have been called like Jeremiah for this moment to embody that which we thought was untenable, our authentic self. Holding our tongues, going along with boards intent on preservation instead of innovation, and sitting on our gifts instead of using them for God’s glory have only left us exhausted and depleted.  Wholeness or authenticity is liberating, invigorating and life-giving. Jeremiah was able to speak truth to power because it was WHO he was created to be, not just what he was created to do. The question we must ask ourselves is WHO are we created to be and HOW can we most authentically show up in this moment?

  1. Click the link below to listen to “Give The People What They Want”
  2. What do you feel God calling you to give in this moment?
  3. What part of this calling resonates with your most authentic self?
  4. Which parts are comfortable for you? Which parts are uncomfortable?
  5. How can you respond to God’s call most faithfully in this moment?

As an additional resource, be sure to check out our recent podcast episode, “Recovering Identity: A Wholehearted Leadership Round Table Conversation,” here.

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