Margaret Marcuson: Why do clergy have such a hard time showing grace to themselves?

Here’s what I notice: the most responsible and hard-working clergy are the ones who are hardest on themselves. They are the least likely to give themselves a break or allow others to share the load. Why is that? This has nothing to do with their theology (Lutherans, I’m looking at you!) and everything to do with emotional process and patterns. Pastor, thy name is overfunctioner. 

My hope for you is that while acknowledging the real demands and stresses of leadership, that you can make some space for yourself and what you really want (including some rest).

For leaders who are inclined to be overfunctioners, a shift in thinking is required, from “I’m responsible for everything,” to, “I’m responsible for myself and what’s needed 1) in my role 2) at this time.” Even then, you’ll need to show yourself some grace, because nobody can be 100% responsible, in the best sense of the word, all the time.

In the throes of the pandemic shutdown, one pastor told me he was trying to extend “covid grace” to himself. If he wanted to work in his pajamas, he didn’t beat himself up for not feeling like getting dressed. He just got busy with work right in his pajamas. I pray that as a preacher of the gospel message you can take the gospel words of grace and hope into yourselves.

Carl Jung suggested people “quietly do the next and most necessary thing.” (Jenny Blake, Free Time, p. 130. (Letters of Carl Jung, vol. 1, 1906-1950 [Oxford: Routledge, 2015]) I wonder what that would be like in our much more pressured and noisy world. Could you do the next and most necessary thing, without feeling the burden of the future or even of the present? In this moment, what is God calling you to do? It might be to check email or texts. It might be to call your favorite church member, the one who always lifts you up. It might be to prayerfully read the text for Sunday. It might be (really!) a nap. Even the nap might be the “practice of the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence said.


Join me for my next What to Do Now virtual retreat to help you discern what to do next and how to find more grace in your work through these days.