As I am sure is the case with many clergy-type folks, Sunday mornings are incredibly draining for me. When I deliver a sermon, I am not just giving a lecture, or a talk. I am pouring my whole being, my whole spirit, my whole emotional self, often times my whole being into the preaching moment. A sermon is far more than an intellectual experience, it is an emotional experience. There is a secret (that’s not so secret any longer), but every sermon that I preach is one that I need to preach to myself first and foremost. Thus, each sermon has a lot of me invested and intertwined in it.
After church I spend time talking with folks, as we move downstairs. Every Sunday our church has a meal after the service, due in large part to many caring churches that provide meals for our folks. When all is said and done, my Sunday mornings are about five hours long, provided nothing goes longer than usual. Of course, five hours is not that long, but for an extreme introvert like myself, it feels like an eternity.
I love people, I care about people, and I like spending time with people. Although I like to think that perhaps I was called to be a hermit, that is simply not the case — I would not be able to survive. What makes me an introvert, however, is that people drain me. After a few hours of people-intensive time I find that I am exhausted — physically, emotionally, spiritually. This is exacerbated on days when there is something else going on. Some days the pressures of ministry weigh too heavily on me, other times I feel as though God is distant.
While everyone else is eating, I am usually around talking with folks, and helping with people who show up at the church and need something — often food or clothing. I have a few parishioners who do something like this, but there is one in particular who always checks up on me,
“Did you eat?” she says.
“Not yet, but I will.” I say.
“Okay, just make sure that you eat.” She then gives me a look to let me know that she’s serious.
Often times I don’t eat, and she’ll check up with me again. Sometimes she even brings me a plate of food and tells me to sit and eat.
This interaction which happens regularly brings to mind the story of when Elijah is fleeing from Jezebel:
Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:3-9, NRSV).
Now, there are many important differences. First, I am not Elijah; secondly, I am not fleeing for my life; and thirdly, I am not going on a long journey on foot. Some smaller differences are that Elijah sat down under a broom tree and fell asleep, whereas I am moving around here and there: talking with this person and that person, picking things up, and checking on things.
However, what is happening between the angel and Elijah and this parishioner and me is very similar. My parishioner knows that I need to eat, that I need to take time from doing and I need to receive nourishment. She knows that I need to take care of myself, and that ministry is a difficult calling. She knows that I struggle sometimes, and I would guess that she knows that I cover up my struggles with busying myself. She knows that I, too, need someone to care for me.
I find it interesting that the angel didn’t rebuke Elijah. The angel didn’t tell him to “buck up”, nor did the angel tell him to “suck it up” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” The angel simply said, “get up and eat” and brought him food. It was with this angel that ministered to him that he was able to make it to Horeb, and that he was able to have that intimate experience with God that follows.
In the same way, this particular parishioner doesn’t do any of these things to me. She simply asks if I’ve eaten, and she often brings me food. I don’t know if she thinks of this passage, and I don’t know if she even realizes that she is ministering to me in her actions. It is quite possible that she just wants to make sure that I eat, because she knows I’m hungry. Regardless of whether she realizes what she’s doing or not, I am thankful to have someone to minister to me when I’m beneath a broom tree in the desert.