Are Successful Clergywomen a Little Crazy?

I would say yes but, then, I’m only speaking for myself.

I remember having a massage once on the free afternoon of a conference rainbow-tears-anne-lacyweek – one of those holy getaways when I was seeking both spiritual and physical refreshment – and as my muscles were being kneaded and punched, I started crying.  Weeping really.  Actually, drooling.

It was right out of that scene in Broadcast News when Holly Hunter had her five minute cry – except mine was a little more pathetic.

Did you see this yesterday in the NY Times Magazine by Heather Havrilesky? It’s about the increased number of strong women characters on television – Leslie Knope, Nurse Jackie, Carrie Mathison – and how they appear strong but are actually very shaky in their own private moments:  

the more astute and capable many of these women are,the more likely it is that they’re also completely nuts

The best clergywomen I know can finesse pinball game-esque crises on any given day. They might be thrust into a morning staff meeting  only to be deflected  off into a hospital emergency, then launched quickly into a family crisis, bouncing off a phone call from angry Church Ladies to an evening meeting with the Deacons to the dining room table at home where a child’s science project is being created.  We hold it together.  We are impressively focused.  We. Get. It. Done.  But then we crawl into bed and weep.  Or we pour ourselves a drink.  Or we make an additional appointment with the therapist.  Or we double up on the practices our spiritual director suggested.

Yes, we are a little crazy.

I hesitate to use that term because I have friends with serious mental health issues.  And yet, all of us – I’m convinced – have mental health issues.  Or spiritual health issues.

We are smart.  We are accomplished.  We can officiate a funeral at 10, attend a Parent – Teacher Conference at noon, do premarital counseling at 2, start a sermon at 3:30, make dinner for the family at 5, run a load of laundry at 5:30, and head to another meeting at 7.  But then we collapse a little bit – either physically or emotionally.  Who can keep doing this?

Many women – teachers, dentists, lawyers, non-profit managers – find themselves in this situation.  We are smart.  We are accomplished.  But we need a  release from the pressure.  We become a little crazy.

A friend of mine shares that her mom always said, “Don’t stick your hand in the crazy.”  Clergywomen – among others – intentionally stick our hands in the crazy.  It’s what we do.

Image here.

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9 responses to “Are Successful Clergywomen a Little Crazy?

  1. Yes. All very, very true. Add in any chronic physical, mental, or spiritual challenges and its a recipe for disaster, for the pastor And the congregation. Also, I know male clergy with a similar complaint or experience, though as a group… I think the experience is not as described here. Expectation that men work more outside home than inside? Who knows.

  2. I think this is true for social workers too. Or maybe it’s just me…I often tell M that I just need to cry and then I’ll feel much better. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m a little crazy.

  3. What does “crazy” mean? I consulted the dictionary:
    crazy |ˈkrāzē| informal
    1 mentally deranged, esp. as manifested in a wild or aggressive way
    • extremely annoyed or angry
    • foolish

  4. My friend Ginny Smith privately asked this question and gave me permission to share it (and then try to answer it):

    Would you extend this by talking more about what “successful” means for you as a clergywoman?

    A successful clergywoman (or clergyman for that matter) is resilient, always growing and adapting, and focused on making disciples and equipping them for ministry. A successful ministry is not necessarily the same as being successful in a worldly way. BUT, if your clergyperson is always worried about paying her bills, she could be distracted from her ministry.

    We have many pastors who are stuck and it’s impossible to thrive if pastors are stuck. They have not taken sabbath-time much less continuing education in years. They are tired. They spend most of their time 1) more afraid of their congregation than God, 2) working to perpetuate an institution rather than making disciples, 3) depending on the paycheck more than the Spirit. It’s terrible being stuck for mental health/spiritual health reasons. But it’s also hard to be a “successful” pastor if we are stuck.

  5. Via Twitter, someone asked about ClergyMEN Are they also a little nuts?

    I’ve never been a clergyman but I’m married to one. I would say – generally speaking – that clergymen:

    – have never had the experience of having to defend their right to be ordained by virtue of their gender by funeral directors, family members, other pastors, random acquaintances and even parishioners. (This is exhausting and sometimes it still happens even in 2013.)
    AND
    – are more likely to take the majority of household/child-rearing chores, although many of us are married to sensitive new age guys . . . or other women.

    These realities might make clergywomen a little crazier.

  6. As a friend of a clergywoman, love, support and understanding is critical. I’d define crazy in a slightly different way – a “crazy, bundled person” who is loving, passionate, dedicated, caring, gifted, adaptive, flexible, strong, committed and often misunderstood. It is not easy slugging through the many expected roles

  7. I think a study out this week also says that women are more prone to worry than men.
    I think it’s also crucial to have a safe place (committee, team, another leader in the congregation) where clergy can say, “I’m tired” or “I’m worried” and to trust that the committee/team/group/person has the best interests of the congregation and the pastor at heart and can say, “Go and rest.”

    You’re on a roll, btw. This is a particularly great week.

    I’m off to cry and drool a little, thanks to supportive folk in my life.

  8. I have to admit that I become “crazy” on a fairly regular basis. It is just too hard to constantly be open, giving, loving, and available to everyone who needs a piece of me…and yes, that is exactly how I feel: that people are taking a piece of me, almost as if I am food. I realize that I am not spiritual/mental/emotional food for anyone; yet the fact that these people should turn to God for that kind of food doesn’t stop them from turning to me and silently asking me to take God’s place in this exchange. I am exhausted and frustrated, and yet I wouldn’t give up this job for the world. So I do a little more self-care and work to find some additional prayer time…and cry when necessary.

  9. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. At least this one is. (I’m just going to go ahead and claim the “successful” mantle.)

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