“…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” –Mark 10:43b
When I interned at a PR firm during my last year of undergrad, my boss had a sign over his desk that read, “Just because you have a job doesn’t mean you have a life.” All too true. But we can use other words in the place of ‘job,’ such as ‘relationship’ or ‘money,’ and it’s just as true.
We can get so wrapped up in our jobs or searches for jobs, in our relationships or desire for relationships, our money or our desire for more money, that we become subconsciously convinced that this is not only my life, but it is my identity, my sense of self; and, as a consequence, we think that it’s all we’re supposed to do with our lives. I didn’t realize this was such an issue for me in terms of my vocation as a pastor until I immersed myself in a three-month sabbatical. To be clear, I love my job, and I continue to find purpose and meaning in it; but I had become so devoted to the tasks of my job that I was subconsciously convinced, “Hey, Dan, this is who you are. You’re a pastor. Do that. Period!”
When I started my sabbatical back in mid-July, I removed email access from my phone and abstained from checking it, I got off of Facebook, I did not go to the church, I refrained from reading sermon commentaries (yeah, I’m a nerd like that), and I didn’t give in to the urge to check on congregants. Early on, I visited another church in College Station so I could worship in the congregation and not lead from the pulpit. After the service I introduced myself to the pastor and told him about how I had just begun my sabbatical, and he said, “Are you going crazy yet?” That’s when it hit me: “Yep, I think I am going crazy.” Isn’t the first step admitting that you have a problem? If I wasn’t a pastor, then what was my identity; because without an identity I have no worth because I have nothing to do, right? And if I wasn’t able to be a pastor, then I didn’t have a life; so what in the name of all that’s holy was I supposed to do with the next three months of my alleged life?
Thankfully, craziness gave way to calm, chaos to serenity, and I mapped out a path to encounter pieces of my identity that I had allowed myself to lose. I drove around Texas –Amarillo, Lubbock, Mason, San Antonio, Austin—to visit family and friends. I rediscovered that I am a friend and I am befriended, and I am a brother, son, and uncle. On vacation in San Francisco with Stacy, I rediscovered that I am anonymously small in a sea of beautiful diversity, and that I need to pause and take in the colors of God’s paintbrush more often so that I can appreciate how I am a small, but essential pixel in that color scheme of Creation. And regardless of where I was physically, I rediscovered that I am a sponge in need of knowledge through books, music, conversations, arts and experiences, and that I am a battery (read: human) in dire need of being recharged, or I won’t have the energy to appreciate these many facets of who I am.
Above all, however, I rediscovered whose I am. I may have a job, I may have family and friends, and I may have bills, appointments, routines, and problems, but before any of those things I am a servant because I belong to God. That is my true identity. I take conscious joy in that truth.
Now that my sabbatical has concluded, my rediscovery of that truth helps me to see that I may have a vocation of being a pastor, but that vocation is simply the way that I am living out my true identity: a servant. You don’t have to be a pastor to serve. You don’t have to have a job to serve. You don’t have to have a relationship or money to serve. You just have to get in touch with who you truly are and live out that identity. There is meaning and purpose in that always. We are children of God, and as God’s beloved, we are called to serve one another. Amen.