Professional Vices & Swimming for Life
~Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
“Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at the followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.”
Ministry can be frustrating at times. I will occasionally vent to Krista about different things and she will ask me if I am angry. I usually reply that I am not angry, just a little frustrated. Its funny how the “frustrating” things can be stifled enough for a smooth word, smiling face, and polite handshake but deep down those little frustrations turn into what Nouwen calls hidden anger, frozen anger, insidious anger. How can we keep our frustrations for building up into such things which create biting resentment and paralyze generous hearts. I think we have all known ministers who have fallen into this. We can see it in the ministries they lead and hear it in their conversations.
This section from The Way of the Heart is actually the first part of a chapter on solitude. Henri Nouwen talks about how the Desert Fathers would “swim for their lives” into the desert to escape the temptations of this world. I find it ironic that he is using swim to describe anything that happens in the desert but when we think about the release that is found in intentionally stepping back from our frustrations to let the Spirit guide us, His counsel satisfies our thirst in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So much so in fact that we can swim for our lives.
“If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.” We are not called to lead people using grim and dull ministries. The Gospel of Christ is cause for celebration. Celebration flows from a generous heart, heartfelt words, genuine smiles, and nail-scarred handshakes. Frustrations get in the way of celebrations. How can we swim for our lives and free ourselves from professional vices (like anger) without stepping out of contemporary ministry settings?