That was the slogan for the Conference on Ministry that I attended when I was a prospective student for seminary. I don’t remember paying attention to it all that much, except the fact for me was God was not keeping me up at night. I had known I was called to be a minister since I was thirteen. While I had wavered slightly in college, more from fear and less from doubt, I had always known I’d go on to seminary and sure enough, I even picked that school.
But what kept me up back then, and what keeps me up at night, are still the same things. And they’re not good things. They’re not even bad things such as war, poverty-even the Government Shutdown right now-that should cause me to feel sick to my stomach to the point of wanting to change the world. They’re the things that keep me from being a health person and a healthy pastor.
What keeps me up at night? Budgets. Student loans. Drama between two people. Miscommunications. Worrying about my son’s education. Thinking about how in the heck I will pay for college for my son when it is already more than twice what it was when I attended. Committee meetings turned sour. Health care. Retirement. Indigestion (probably related to some of those things).
What kept me up at night in college was the worry that I’d get through seminary and not find a church. Find I was un-call-able. Be ordained but not be able to pay off my college loans. How much debt I was leaving school with. And while some of those things have faded away, much of it has remained.
It’s not God that keeps me up at night, but all the things that hold me back from God. And it’s not even those things, it is the fear.
It’s a hard time to be clergy. Many of us are going to part-time positions and try to balance work and home life and all the while, we still have the same student loans to pay along with other bills, and with tuition rates going up, it’s not going to get better.
I preach about how fear is what holds us back from following God, and yet it is so hard for me to let go of my own fears. Conversations play over and over again in my mind. Bills come in and pile up by the toaster. What is it that I’m afraid of?
Afraid of not having enough to make it through. Afraid of letting down my congregation or my family. Afraid of letting down myself (“I should have written that book by now and have paid off my debt by now!”) Afraid of not living up to some standard.
That’s not God keeping me up at night. I don’t believe for a second God thinks I’m a failure, or thinks I don’t do enough, or thinks I’m not good enough.
Friends, it’s high time we let go of the standards set before us. We are going to be in debt. We are going to struggle with bills. Ministry is a tough place and budgets are tight. But we need to know that God does not see us as failures. Instead, I’m sure God sees new opportunities and possibilities.
I sorta wish it was God keeping me up at night, telling me that there are hungry people in my neighborhood, homeless right down the street. I wish I was kept up at night because of the war in Syria (which the news seems to have conveniently forgotten) or those who are affected directly because of the shutdown. I wish I could turn to seeing what needs to be done in the world, instead of looking only at myself.
Even then, however, I’m sure God would want us to see the possibilities and the opportunities, and not to beat ourselves up about it. Not getting any sleep doesn’t help anyone. Even Jesus slept at the back of the boat; so perhaps we, too, need to close our eyes to the worries of ministry around us and be refreshed, dreaming of the ways God is using us now, for I believe God is using us, exactly as we are.