Imagine a kid who grew up memorizing lines from every Disney movie in the vault. He went on vacation at some point in those formative years. And on that vacation, perhaps he had a photo op with Mickey and a memorable twirl on the teacups. And then, at the end of the most magical day ever, he made a wish upon a star illumined by the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle.
The kid was hooked for life. And when presented with a work opportunity, that same kid hesitated no more than two seconds. Of course he wanted to work at Disneyland.
He showed up to the office every day, ready to re-create the magic felt when he was young. He greeted visitors with a smile. And he still loved the fireworks.
But at some point, The Happiest Place on Earth became The Place Where He Picked Up His Paycheck. It was a job – much like any other job. There were conflicts. Sick days. He stopped seeing the magic. He stopped making wishes.
Most ministers start out like the Disney kid. We go into this line of work because we felt something – something that shook the timbers of our souls. Something absolutely holy. And we wanted to repeat that experience a thousand times… for ourselves and for others.
If given the option, why wouldn’t we enter this vocation? Why wouldn’t we choose to surround ourselves with the sacred totems of faith? We answered the call precisely so we could inhale the incense of liturgy. So we could savor the bread and wine. So we could go hoarse singing ancient melodies and pound our chests praying with groans too deep for words.
This is why we started out doing what we do. It wasn’t to be rich and famous. It wasn’t to be the corporate head of an ecclesiastical sweatshop. Somewhere in the wideness of creation we actually stumbled upon the stuff of God. And it seized our imaginations. We were hooked on wonder… even without the castle and pyrotechnics.
That’s why there’s no greater threat to a pastor’s vocation than the loss of wonder.
You can understand how it happens, I’m sure. There are meetings to oversee. Budgets to balance. Schedules to keep. Lists to juggle. Eventually, the pastor becomes a manager for God. But we weren’t created to be managers of the Divine; we were created to be celebrants — laughing and weeping and dancing and dreaming.
Without wonder, we’re just making things go, handling the obligations. And we stop seeing the flesh and blood of Christ coursing through our own veins and the veins of the people we serve.
It happens to ministers every day. Every single day. Plenty walk away because of burnout. Plenty because of scandal. And a few because they no longer believe. But if accurate statistics were kept, I don’t think anything could compare to the number who walk away because they lose their sense of wonder.
Fortunately it hasn’t happened for me. Not yet. And I pray it never does. But I know the threat is real. I hear its numb snarl in the darkness.
Today is Day One of a three-month sabbatical for me. I really don’t know what to expect… what will unfold. I don’t know what I’ll discover or who I will be at the end of it. But I know that this journey is one of rediscovering wonder.
Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel, famously said, “I never asked for success. I asked for wonder.” And that will be my simple petition for the next 91 days.
Not for resources. Not for advancement. As I begin this season I will posture myself to see and hear what first seized my own heart.
I will give thanks — again and again — for those who make this time possible. For colleagues who take on greater burdens. For a congregation who blesses in word and deed. For a wife who guards my soul with a fierce love. And for the grace that stretches far beyond human calculation.
There’s something still that lights up the sky. I want to be there to celebrate it.