I'm feeling pretty down today. No, this is not a pity party, though if I did throw one, you'd be invited. No, I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm just down. It is, as they say, what it is. I'll get into more of why I'm feeling down in a bit, but if you've been reading this thing, I'm betting you can guess.
I think part of the down feeling is the stark contrast to how "up" I was feeling only a week and a half ago. I had the great privilege of preaching for Montreat's Middle school conference. It was, in short, incredible. It was very well planned out, very well organized. With 600 middle schoolers involved, there was no shortage of energy. Everything was done well. And yet with all that organization, there was no shortage of Holy Spirit. God was doing something in that place. God was inviting middle schoolers to be on a lifelong journey of love, compassion, justice, service and rest. Yes, we talked to middle schoolers about Sabbath and it went very well!
Beyond what I perceived to be the success of the conference overall and the opportunity to work with a fantastic team, I can't help but mention another key component for me personally. For about five days straight, I was really affirmed in my work. That's really important to me. I felt like I was an important part of a team. Not the most important part, just one of many. That's a nice feeling. I felt like I was getting feedback beyond "nice sermon". It was heartfelt, it wasn't said to be polite. I felt really good about myself for a couple of days...
... then I came home. Maybe I don't need to say more about what I came home to. Poke around the blog a bit if you need to know. Again, maybe what's getting me is the contrast. Being a part of a high functioning team vs. being in a place where I'm expected to both have and be the answer. Being strongly affirmed vs. being weakly applauded. or not applauded. or blamed for the problems that predate me by decades. Feeling like I'm doing something very meaningful vs. feeling like I'm (to borrow a cliche) rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
I've made myself sick in the last week. Maybe it was bound to happen. I haven't had a real break in a very long time. I'm worried that I'm burning out. I'm worried about being one of those statistics about pastors that flame out in the first five years. I'm worried that I'm not really made for this...
... which is why mountaintop experiences are so important. You need them to re-energize, to keep you going until that time when you can recharge or change venue. You need them because without you need the occasional glimpse of God.
I've been sitting with the story of the transfiguration a little bit lately. I don't fully understand it or why the Gospel writers thought it should be included. But I love Peter's response to seeing Jesus in all of his glory. "Let's build a structure here to Jesus, Moses and Elijah". In other words, let's stay up here for a while. Let's bask in the coolness of seeing and experiencing awesome things. Let's stay on the mountain. Jesus quickly makes them snap back to reality. We've got work to do at the bottom of this mountain, guys. Some of that work includes crucifixion. We need the mountaintop, but we can't stay there. The mountaintop isn't what we're built for.
I worry about people who only want the mountaintop experience. I think much of charismatic faith is built around the illusion that nonstop mountaintop is achievable and actually good for you. In those places, people beat themselves up when they don't get the high of the ecstatic experience. That's not healthy. God is on the mountain, but God is in the valley as well. Harder to find? Sure, but still just as present as on the mountaintop.
So I'm down... but at least I'm not down here alone.