I Believe in Apathy
I believe in apathy. As a pastor, I cannot care about everyone and everything to the same degree. I love God and try to love all people, even the annoying ones. But if I cared for everyone to the extent that I should, my capacity for compassion would burn out.
That’s true for all of us, but with us pastors, a bit of apathy is especially important because of the expectations piled upon us. Pastors are supposed to be nice and are supposed to want to help everybody. I do want to help, but I cannot do it all.
In our church mail box, we receive one plea after another. Glistening-eyed children stare up from letters that beg me to take a moment from my busy schedule to make a donation. Sometimes I can, and I can always pray for people. But some days I say no to providing financial help, even if I can afford a donation. Then I walk to the store to buy an iced tea, doing my best not to feel guilty about refusing to send a check to one of God’s destitute children. “Papa, I cannot do it all,” I say to God, and I drink my tea.
On my day off – I think it’s Friday – I do my best to ignore the phone. “But Pastor, it could be an emergency.” That’s true, and I check my messages often. But if I don’t take Sabbath time, time to relax and ignore the phone, I’ll become like a man demon-possessed.
I don’t carry a pager or cell phone for the same reason. I want time when no one can reach me. “But it could be an emergency.” True, it could be, and those in crisis would have to manage without me.
People often tell me their troubles. When they do, I listen with care, but afterwards I unbutton the caring and slip into some comfy apathy, so that my compassion does not become a straight-jacket.
A bit of apathy is also healthful when it comes to church issues that are not closely related to my pastoral responsibilities. For example, a few years ago, our congregation had the chance to buy a small house next door to our building. I told the congregation that I was opposed to the idea but that I would go along with whatever they decided. I cared, but not enough to be passionate. We bought the house, a move that ended up being the right one. My hint of apathy had helped me to stay out of my congregation’s way.
God cares about everyone equally, but I’m not God. I try to help people. Occasionally the person who needs help is me, so I turn on the apathy and drink iced tea.
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