This weekend my car battery died. It was a sad event because I had not planned to do any automotive repairs in my schedule or budget. However, most tragedies are unplanned and unanticipated. They simply happen. Fortunately, the car whose battery died is not my wife’s, nor my, main mode of transportation; it is a backup vehicle. So the consequences of the tragedy were averted temporarily. But my reflection on the situation was not.
What a wondrous 400 cubic inches a car battery can be! Within those six battery cells is enough power to engage a starter motor and provide spark to begin the process of an internal combustion engine. When properly connected to the electrical system the battery is recharged while serving as the route for electrical current to lights, gauges, radio and speakers, and even the electrical fuel pump! Most of the time the car battery is unseen, undisturbed, uninspected.
But when trouble comes, it is usually not accidental. Lights are left switched on, a wire has a short and continues to draw current away from the battery, or the alternator fails to charge. We act surprised when we turn the key or push the starting button and nothing happens. The sound we hear may mimic a weak rattle or be absolutely still. The battery needs help to function. We connect the battery to another car that is running or perhaps place it on a charging unit converting household AC current to the battery’s DC current. After a few seconds or minutes the vehicle storms to life with a roar! We are ready to go again for days, weeks, months and even years. The problem is solved and the battery drops off our conscious checklist, or so we think.
That didn’t happen this weekend. The first time there was noise. The process of charging took place and the battery’s life was renewed. But when I went out to check it again, the car was silent. No open door chime with the key in the ignition, no interior lights, nothing. Dead, dead, dead! The battery could no longer hold the life giving charge and dispense it when needed. It was burnt out.
That is when the reflective side of my personality sprang into motion. Our spiritual lives are like the battery. We have within ourselves a life giving force that can start a more complex system operating. Yet, vital to our ongoing function is a crisp connection to a recharging system. Connections must be in place, corrosion free, and inspected from time to time. But as long as the complex system functions, we give little time or thought to the inner life giving spirit. Until it is too late!
Recently pastoral burnout has been flagged by my sensory perception modes: ears and eyes. In conversations and reading this acute problem has been emphasized. I came to realize that burnout-like a dead battery-is not really all that unanticipated. The overuse of the stored energy by lights left on-or critical comments by parishioners, the corrosion of cables-habits of the old self that have not been addressed, the long periods of time between usage-failures to retreat and rest-all these lead to pastoral burnout.
Perhaps the most detrimental element to a growing, thriving spiritual life comes in the form of corrosion. The points of contact between the energy giving spirit and the means by which that energy is transmitted are not fully and clearly in touch with one another. This corrosion can come in the age-old cardinal sins—pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust—or in the modern packaging of addiction: prescription narcotic drugs, recreational drugs, pornography, or alcohol. Whatever the source the corrosion still impacts the spiritual energy in one’s life. As long as the addiction or cardinal sin is permitted to exist it will congregate at the primary point for connection and decrease the spiritual power transmitted into one’s life. Corrosion must be battled through constant inspection and cleaning. This can consist of confession as well as seeking an outside party to inspect and probe one’s life and practices.
A second problem arises when the spiritual power is drained on a frequent basis through misuse. As when lights are left on when not needed so, too, the constant drain of ministry without a source of regeneration leaves the body and soul in need of a strong, long, slow charge. A series of these battery draining events will damage the person’s ability to receive and store the energy available. The ministry they value to the detriment of their health will be short lived.
Spiritual Formation is a conscious decision to care for the battery that is my soul. While a battery does have a standard functional life, that term can be greatly shortened by misuse, or perhaps prolonged through proper care. Just as a damaged battery can have collateral damage for other electrical components, a weak and damaged soul can inflict wounds in unimaginable locations. The question is whether a person will be proactive in nurturing their soul’s energy level or reactive when the damage is made manifest.
One thing is clear from my episode this weekend; if you haven’t serviced your battery in seven years, you have not been giving it much attention!!
FYI: This incident occurred in September 2015.