The Mountain, Not the Weather

“What’s it like, Carl, when you moved from professor to pastor?” I asked. At the time, I was making a similar transition. His response, “Well, your highs will be higher and your lows will be lower.”

Carl was right. The nature of our work makes it so. Even within the same day, you can move from the thrill of celebrating the Wilson’s first born to the shock of Lou’s diagnosed, inoperable cancer . . . from the high of someone “getting it,” hearing grace to the low of another hearing “judgment, I’m not enough” . . . from the charged promises embedded in pre-marital counseling to the despairing news of Al moving out of his house . . . from the synergy of committee collaboration to the fractiousness of committee differences . . . from the hope in Alice’s baptism to the lament of Jim’s exit from the church in anger. What a roller-coaster ride ministry can be, up and down, emotionally high, emotionally low.

In some sense this is life, everybody’s life. In a given day, we are stretched between the poles of suffering and wonder. Our hearts are asked to contain huge amounts of both pain and joy.

For us, the occupational hazard is in the projections. As pastors, we stand up, stick out, and like a Rorschach test, we invite judgments all the way from “You are the best preacher I have heard”

. . .”you listen well, not like our previous pastor” . . .”you are just what we need” . . .”I love the way you put things” to “your sermons are good but I wished you visited more” . . .”you visit, I appreciate that, but I wished you studied more for your sermons” . . .”you talk about money and mission too much” . . .”You don’t speak enough about money. Just lay it on the line!” We are employed by those with the right of evaluation. Multiple employers; multiple evaluations—salted with projections.

Of course, we internalize these projections, even if for a moment, feeling special, feeling inadequate. As if riding on an emotional roller-coaster, “up” we go toward ego-inflation; “down” we go toward ego-deflation. Or as one pastor admitted, “I go from ‘I am so privileged to be doing this,’” to ‘I want to get out of here.’”

Ah, “ego” is the word. Our ego loves the excitement of roller-coaster rides. That’s not bad, but it is so limiting . . . and exhausting. There is another larger part of us, sometimes called the Self or inner observer or inner Witness or Christ within. It’s that part of us that can sit back, stroke our chin with curiosity, and ask, “What’s going on here? Where is the kernel of truth is what’s being said? What’s being ‘hooked” in me that needs the light of day?”

In my case, often lurking in the shadows was my need to be needed, to be loved, to be applauded. So these projections, if I allowed them, could invite me, once again, to thicken the truth of being loved as gift, not achievement.

Working with projections, ours and others, can be this kind of inner soul work. The “highs” and “lows,” like the weather come and go, while the mountain rests secure in its grace. At our deepest identity, we are the mountain, not the weather.

One Response to The Mountain, Not the Weather

  1. Mark Ward says:

    I appreciate this important reminder, Mahan. It is hard to tame that ego-stroker, that in me that loves to be loved. For, as you say, what makes healthy, enduring ministry possible is to attend not to the strokes but to the deeper work that I hope I am enabling. Thank you for that image: Let love be a gift – not an achievement – on the larger path.

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