Nearly twenty-seven years of professional ministry, marriage and being a father has given me a fresh awareness, at once painful and humorous, of why the saints of the church rarely married. I am wrong to have ever thought the issue was chastity. It isn’t, at least as far as I can now imagine, denied as I am by time (and their death) of speaking with them. No, the issue isn’t chastity, its distraction. Professional ministry is all about a thousand details. To be fair, so is life. Marriage, raising children and earning a living, whether as a pastor or advertising executive or any other thousands of ways we struggle to pay the bills is an exhausting enterprise. Intentional activity for growing in the holy life is easily pushed to the outside of the plate of daily activities. Should it fall over the edge of the plate, who among us even notices? It now seems that the saints realized that distractions – the thousand things that plea for our attention – are at least minimized without a marriage and a family.
Michael L. Lindvall, the hard-working pastor of The Brick Presbyterian Church in the City of New York once wrote that some days his practice of holy living is reduced to the few seconds between his head touching the pillow at the end of a long day and sleep; he prays simply, “Bless my sleep before I start again tomorrow.” Greg Ogden writes that nothing consumes pastors more, both time and emotional energy, than pastoral care. Ogdenfurther asserts that pastoral care is far too important to make it the sole or even primary function of the senior pastor. Either the care receiver will be short-changed by an exhausted pastor or the primary call of pastors to preach, teach or lead will be diminished. Ask that pastor to also lead the way toward faithful spiritual disciplines and every pastor will leave the vocation of ministry. It is simply too exhausting.
What are the saint, pastor and everyday follower of Jesus to do? Total retirement sounds very attractive. But that isn’t an option for most. I cannot shed my responsibilities to my spouse and children. Working for a paycheck is an important part of meeting those responsibilities. Though inhabiting a deserted, tropical island sounds wonderfully attractive another way must be pursued. It seems to me that a closer look at the lives of the saints offer a clue. I speak not of chastity – outstanding student loans with my children’s names attached announce that it’s too late for that. Rather, I speak of the saints’ contentment with what they had, their fundamental life practice of simplicity of possessions. Distractions multiply with possessions. Perhaps I can find ways to live with less.
It now seems that God\’s urgent claim upon our financial lives is one of grace. Giving away a portion of our wealth prevents the spending of that gift. If the gift isn\’t spent then all the distractions that follow simply don\’t show up in our life. More, after a period of responsible giving what inevitably becomes clear is that the financial contribution never was something we gave away. What presses against our hearts is the certain truth that we have actually made a purchase – what the scripture calls a purchase that is imperishable. What we have purchased is a life that, as the current pope puts it, has the fragrance of the Gospel. We have purchased a holy life – a life that pays attention to God.