Would You Please Reschedule Your Crisis?
Four months ago, just a few weeks before I came out to my husband about my atheism, I decided to quit the church choir. I did not mind the weekly rehearsals. In fact, I like the choir members and enjoyed getting together with them every week. I also didn’t mind playing the piano for them on Sunday mornings. I quit for two other reasons.
First, while I was willing to commit to attending weekly rehearsals and Sunday services, I was not willing to add any extra religious gigs to my agenda. For example, several church leaders spent several weeks in the fall playing with the idea of getting the church musicians involved in some sort of evangelistic outreach in the church’s neighborhood. Sorry guys, count me out of that one. I was not disappointed when it didn’t happen. Another one was an invitation to travel to a church in Maryland – on a Saturday night – to sing two songs at a “Concert of Prayer.” Right. You want me to take an hour to drive there, hang around in a prayer meeting (those really get the juices flowing) for one or two hours, then spend another hour driving home – because you need me to play the piano for about eight minutes. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to that one.
Second, for a whole lot of reasons I won’t go into here, I’ve been badly burned out on the church pianist thing for several years. Even before I lost my faith, fell from grace, found my mind – whatever it was that happened to me last summer – I needed a break from the ceaseless demands on my weekends. Since I was still completely in the atheist closet at the time, I felt like the only way I could get any relief would be to quit the choir. I figured that would at least open up my Wednesday nights and relieve me of the extra invitations and obligations that choirs seem to collect.
My pastors’ responses to my resignation was disappointing, albeit it not surprising. I’ll admit that my timing was not great. I sent my resignation letter just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving (late November, for you non-American readers). Needless to say, preparations were already underway for Christmas events, which always require lots of music. My pastors, either missing or ignoring the fact that I was undergoing some sort of crisis that prompted this abrupt resignation, offered these responses:
Pastor #1: I hope you will think and pray about this before making this decision. We really need you.
Pastor #2: Can you at least carry on through the Christmas season? Then we can make some adjustments in January.
My reaction to Pastor’s #1’s response was: I’m not going to pray about it at all, but I’m deeply offended that you think that I didn’t consider this decision carefully before writing my letter. Furthermore, I’ve already made the decision and I’m not going to change my mind. It’s not like I woke up one morning and said to myself, “Self, today would be a great day to quit the choir.” Of course I thought about it – long and hard – before writing the letter!
My reaction to Pastor #2’s response was: Excuse me; it should be obvious that I’m going through a crisis. I’m sorry it’s inconvenient for you that I go through it right now, but, no, I cannot reschedule it for a time that suits you better.
By now, you may be wondering if there’s any point to this story. The point is this: churches have a very bad habit of using people and giving little in return. Last fall was one of maybe two or three times in my life that I really needed some understanding, and, perhaps, a bit of pastoral care. I got neither. Instead, I got the same old attitude, the one that says: no matter what you’re going through, the needs of others, especially your church, should always be your top priority. I don’t buy that anymore, although I did for a long time. Sadly, I found repeatedly that church officials (pastors, bishops, whoever) rarely gave a damn about my needs. I was supposed to give and give and give without ever needing anything in return. I’ve finally figured out that I have to take care of my own needs because, sure as hell, no one else is going to take care of them for me.
You’ve probably guessed that I didn’t reschedule my crisis because it was inconvenient. As if such a thing would have been possible. Nobody plans a crisis! Crises, by definition, are always unplanned and inconvenient; and they’re usually messy too. I did what I had to do: I fought through it on my own when I needed to do so. Now, I’m a stronger person for having done so.
- the chaplain