Don’t get me wrong: I love being a minister. It’s not about not wanting to be a minister. It’s not about wanting to be anything else.
But sometimes, I just want to be me. To not talk shop. To let my guard down.
There aren’t a lot of people who don’t know me as a minister, and most of the time, that’s fine by me. It’s just that there are days when I just want to be me.
- The me who listens to terrible music that would make my mother’s eyebrows raise.
- The me who laughs at the joke that the minister shouldn’t laugh at.
- The me who gets to wear something pretty instead of ugly, man-ish, mandated work clothes.
- The me who is affectionate with the people she’s closest to, not worried about whether someone is going to freak out or make assumptions because I hug or kiss someone.
- The me who gets to flirt without other people assuming that I’m breaking the rules.
- The me who isn’t under a microscope, or in a fishbowl, or held to a frankly impossible standard in which she never has a bad day, slips up, gets tired, feels selfish, or – sin of all sins – doubts.
I suppose that the last one is what I struggle with the most. Couple an anxiety disorder with a profession that in its very nature puts a LOT of pressure on outward behavior and it’s no wonder that I spend so much time feeling like I’m wearing shoes that are half a size too small. Every step has to be chosen carefully and I’m bound to not only lose my balance now and then, but when I stumble, it’s even more noticeable.
There are some professions that come with a whole new identity; once people know that you’re a ______, that’s their primary descriptor for you. A lot of the time, it’s OK. I don’t mind it. It’s the profession to which I’m called, and when people introduce me as such, I’m good with it. I worked awfully hard to get to where I am. But once people know that I’m a minister, they act differently. They suddenly stop swearing (even if they sounded like a sailor just moments before). They apologize for every slightly shady anecdote or joke, as if my poor, sainted ears hadn’t ever heard it before (um, I used to work in a truck stop; I’ve heard more than you have). They start modifying behaviors that they think will be offensive, and I know that it’s an attempt to show respect. I get that. I appreciate the effort as well as being spared some potentially embarrassing moments. They get tense, and I get tense, and then the whole nature of the interaction changes. There’s an imbalance that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s there nonetheless.
Every now and then, I get to be with someone who doesn’t know me primarily as a minister. Neither of my best friends know me in that context. They’ve never heard me preach. While my memory of more than two decades of friendship isn’t perfect, I don’t know that either have been to church with me more than maybe twice. I have friends from high school and college who know me from choir or the College Democrats group or an English class, but not as a minister. Friends I view as cousins and old summer camp buddies who knew me “back then” know that I’m a minister, but when I’m with them, I get to just be me.
There is so much freedom in just being me, and it doesn’t happen often.
It’s kind of sounding like I spend most of my time being someone or something inauthentic, but that’s not the case. More accurately, I spend most of my time being an incomplete version of myself. One that, for fear of failing to live up to everyone’s standards, holds off on anything that may ruffle feathers. My younger sister, whom we call Noonie, learned a very big lesson at a much younger age than I: when I am holding back all these parts of me that I think might tweak someone’s nose, I’m also holding the good parts of me back, the fun parts that only a few people get to see.
Last weekend, I went home for Brandon’s birthday, and I wasn’t introduced once as his minister-friend. Fairly early in the dinner, everyone knew what I do, but they didn’t censor anything. I gave hugs and kisses and laughed at stories that would have made my mother blush and danced to generally horrible music, and oh my sweet mother of pearl, it was so nice to just be me.
When I go to Baltimore to visit Melissa and her family, they know what I do, and are incredibly familiar with my day-to-day life as a minister. We don’t talk about that, though. We talk about their kids, and our families, and we play nerdy board games and it’s rest like I get almost nowhere else.
My ministry is certainly a big part of who I am. But it’s not all I am.
My name is Cindy. I love football, hockey, and baseball, at least until the end of May when my poor Cubbies are losing terribly on a consistent basis. I love reading bad chick lit, listening to bad pop music, and watching Supernatural reruns over and over and over. I’m an affectionate little beast at heart, but I usually stifle it because it makes people’s undies bunch up (and not in a good way). I love to flirt, but rarely get to do so anymore, and that makes me sad. I love buying shirts that make my boobs look good. When I’m mad, I swear like a sailor, but very, very few people have actually seen me mad. I own two Robin Thicke albums, and I’m still a feminist. I’ve been a Democrat since the Bush-Dukakis debates when I was seven years old and I think I would break out in hives if I ever voted for a Republican. I’m a genius who feels guilty about her intellect and lack of artistic creativity. I’m an LGBTQ ally. And I’m a minister.