“Take Heart” Took My Breath Away Too

If you are a pastor in the LCMS, I cannot recommend highly enough the respite retreat I just attended called “Take Heart.” It is performed by Doxology, which exists specifically to care for and equip pastors as they shepherd their flocks. “Take Heart,” a special retreat separate from the classic Doxology program (which I really want to go to now), is designed as a respite for pastors in this post-pandemic world. Details on their website here.

I went to the one in Plymouth, Indiana at the end of April. I went for three reasons (in no particular order): 1) It was free—the missions office in St. Louis provided a grant; 2) A friend told me several times to go; 3) I was almost completely burned out, and I could not free myself from my smoldering condition. My overall goal was based on #3, and I went with the anticipation of anticipating nothing. I wanted to be a mute patient in an emergency room: just go to these people and see if I can’t feel just a little bit better. I was looking forward to nothing in particular, and I deliberately refrained from learning any more details besides the idea of, “Come here at this time; we will help you not have a nervous breakdown.”

The drive from my house to the retreat center was over four hours, and I spent much of that time trying to empty my brain of all work-related items. I also listened to a lot of music from my youth, shedding a few tears here and there as I nostalgically remembered those far simpler times. The tears further reminded me that my current state was emotionally volatile. Reflecting retroactively, I realize that for the past several months I at times felt shaky, sick to my stomach, and I jumped at shadows while walking the dog. People talking at meetings sometimes sounded like a muffled voice from above the water, the ping of my phone sent a stabbing feeling to my temple, and all supportive speech from members—normally so cherished by me—fell flat as an egg smashing on the concrete.

Do you feel like this?

Does your pastor feel like this?

Go (or send him) to this respite retreat. There’s no guarantee, of course, but it worked for me. Actually, without fear of exaggeration, I feel like a man who was just yanked out of the drowning pool and zapped back to life. I am gulping lungfuls of air outside of the coal mine after the canary gave its life for me.

What made the respite so meaningful, so beneficial? I can name three specific things:

  1. Validation. I was not alone. I did go above and beyond during the pandemic. And yes, the stupid, ignorant, godless world was so busy calling supermarket cashiers heroes that my vocation was ignored as “not essential.” The truth: pastors are more eternally essential than doctors. “What good is it to save your life and lose your soul?” Well done, good and faithful servant. Take a freaking break and cut yourself some slack.
  2. Worship. There were 6 distinct worship experiences. They all followed liturgical offices, and they all had homilies. There was a chaplain involved who offered private confession/absolution, which I eagerly took on the first night.
  3. Tools. Hey, here’s a great idea: let’s learn some tools so that you don’t burn out every year or two. My professional life is already changing in small but noticeable ways.

I hope it works this way for you. Obviously, results may vary. But what made all the difference for me is that I knew I would get out what I put into it. So I put into it. It started with something as simple as going. Click the link, register in 5 minutes, then get in the car and go.

Just go. If you’re like me, you need it more than you realize. And if you do, reach out to me to let me know your experience. I’m in the book.