Rabbi Edwin Friedman said two things at the recent Covenant Midwinter Conference that struck home. He blew all the helpful advice on dealing with clergy burnout when he said that he did not believe in clergy support groups. Though admitting that the ministry is a very lonely profession, he said that real support comes from God alone and that solitude is the best way to get in touch with God. His other gem was that those of us in the helping professions take ourselves and our work too seriously. We need, he said, a lighter touch and more playfulness.
Both of these words landed solidly with me. I still believe that honest sharing brings personal release and a sense of support. But matters shared sometimes crumble without real resolution. I confess I am somewhat of a loner at heart. I need glades of solitude to find my way out of distressing confluences into enough ease to take on an unknown way. "He who guides from pole to pole" has his own wondrous radar.
About playfulness. Well, I must have been born uptight and tense. The other week, a golf pro asked me to drop my right arm after having it stretched out horizontally, It stunned me to see it come down more like a controlled parachute than a falling pellet. "See!" he said. He had me! That really hit me because I always thought I was as relaxed as Perry Como singing about a Spanish hacienda. So I tensed up again and went to work on properly dropping my right arm.
At the heart of Friedman's word is trust, of course. Trust in God and trust in the life process. If this is true, then I can take my hands off the church and let the Lord of the church have his way with it. God needs our fragile hands, it is true. But we can take our sweaty palms off the ultimate controls. I reread a book on preaching by Dr. James Forbes, new senior minister of the famed Riverside Church. What he said about preaching is good for living, too. He said that it was important for us to know "when to push and when to relax . .. turn loose." Amen!