by Klaus-Günter Pache, Pastor em.
For the first time in my life I was on a real sailing trip with friends. We had chartered a boat, and spent a week on the canals of North Holland and the Ijsselmeer. During this time I learned a lot about sailing and said goodbye to the romantically naïve idea that sailing is a relaxed after-work pleasure. There is so much to consider – wind, currents, navigation, harbor regulations, sailing lore, learning knots, anchoring, emergency behavior…and last but not least check the seaworthiness of the boat. All clear with the rigging, with the engine, especially with what you can’t see. The underwater hull needs the same attention and care as what you see above the water. Everything has to be in order under water if you don’t want to get into distress above water.
For me, the time and this adventure became a valuable comparison. Deep within us lies a place – the Bible calls it sometimes soul, sometimes heart – a mysterious dimension that we easily neglect, but which is indispensable for our lives. If we want to pack the storms of the time, then ‘underwater’ everything must be in order.
I had put a lot of effort into making things look good ‘above water’. I graduated from high school and studied theology. I always wanted to be a good theologian. For more than twenty years at that time I was the senior pastor in the Paulus congregation in Bremen. But then it happened. Suddenly nothing worked. I sat in my study, couldn’t move, and was just afraid. Storm time! I was on sick leave for half a year, and during that time I thought more than once: it won’t come back, it’s over. This phenomenon is called ‘burnout’, or better and more correctly expressed: exhaustion and depression. Storm time – nothing works anymore!
What happened? Many things that I cannot go into here in detail, but one thing was clear to me: I had been too busy with what could be seen above the surface of the water. I wanted to have everything under control, to control everything. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and my boat was making its way through the blue sea. But then dark clouds began to gather.
I think we live in a time and among a generation that predominantly experiences life to be simple and carefree. But as the years go by, we realize that’s not true. We think we have a certain right to personal happiness and find that it can be taken away from us very quickly. Suddenly the blue sea is gray and more like liquid metal. The wind howls, the waves go up and we get scared. Is the boat all right? Will the keel hold? Under water, in a hidden place – everything okay?
This hidden place is our soul, our heart. It is the place where God enters into a relationship with us humans. A place where convictions are born. It can be the holy of holies, the place of God’s presence. There is a verse in Proverbs 4:23 that seems so important to me that I have saved it on my Mac as a desktop image: Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs life.
What does that mean: guard your heart? I think we must resolve to give it our undivided attention. Its health and productivity cannot simply be assumed. We must protect and nurture it. There must be a place where all is well, a place that can handle the turmoil of our lives; a place where we are alone with God; a place where we are not intimidated by the turmoil of this world.
This raises the question of the secret engine of our lives and the care, the nurturing of our hidden world. Are we people with a vocation or are we driven people, always under power, rushed and unsettled?
How can you recognize an unsettled person?
To an unsettled person, the goal is always more important than the way to get there. He sees life only in terms of results. The process that leads to this result is forgotten.
Unsettled people cannot wait. A line of cars on the highway drives them crazy. They would rather drive a detour of 100 km than stand in a traffic jam for an hour. A slow cashier at the supermarket drives them to despair.
Unsettled people need constant self-affirmation. They are the people who never get enough. Status symbols mean everything, titles, money! To be at the top – that is worth all the effort.
Unsettled people care too little about their moral integrity. When the goal is so important, ethical boundaries drop.
Unsettled people are immoderately busy. Their full schedule becomes a status symbol. Their cell phone is always on. They complain about all the work, but the worst thing that could happen to them would be if they suddenly had time.
So how do you recognize a ‘called’ person?
They see themselves as stewards, not owners. Called people serve and waste little thought on the success that comes with it. If they lose something, it is not a disaster. They rest in God.
Called people know who they are. Their identity is grounded in God. They know themselves infinitely loved and preserved.
Called people know what they must do and what they can safely forget.
Called people want to come closer to God – all their lives.
In John 3 there is a sentence that I misunderstood for many years. Here, John the Baptist says to people who want to provoke him: Jesus must grow, but I must decrease. I asked myself: Why is that? Jesus has had enough! I must grow!
That is exactly how it is! No unsettled person could say such a sentence. As unsettled people, we must always have more. We can’t stand life any other way. To limit ourselves, to drive a smaller car, to give up a vacation in the south, to move into a smaller apartment, to earn less – for God’s sake, I can’t do that.
John says: Jesus has to make it big, not me! Do we want that? If so, that’s the best way to handle the stormy times of our lives. Since that time, the longer, the more I pay attention to it. I never want to forget this important biblical advice: Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it springs life.
So we ask ourselves: Is it true in our heart? Sometimes over the years, indifference and spiritual blindness lie over our lives, or dark shadows torment us and we cannot and do not want to talk about it. What actually prevents us from asking for help? To make use of pastoral care, care for one’s own soul.
This helped me decisively at that time, people with whom I could talk and pray. Like this, again and again: Search me, O God, and look into my heart, examine my thoughts and feelings! See if I am in danger of being unfaithful to you, then bring me back to the way that leads to eternal life! (Psalm 139:23-24)