Sunday, December 27, 2009

I See... Recovering Bishops


I woke up at 600 am on Sunday morning, just as I had for the past almost six years, but I had no leadership meetings to attend. It felt foreign to sit with the mass of members on a pew in the congregation instead of on the stand flanked by my two counselors. Who were these curiously different people sitting next to me? Oh wait... they are my wife and kids. My heart instinctively searched for inspiration on who should be next primary president, and what I could say to the young Wayne, an off-beat priest in our ward, to encourage him to prepare to serve a mission, but nothing came. Why? I mentally shook my head momentarily and returned to reality. Because... I was no longer serving as a bishop; I had been released a few weeks ago.

My subconscious still instinctively answered to the random cry of “Hey Bishop!” in the chapel lobby. I found myself “”accidentally” wandering up to church on Wednesday nights for youth activity nights with nothing to do, or waiting by the phone for someone in need to call. It was then I realized I needed help. I searched out a quiet little-known program designed to help recently released bishops recover from the gaping hole that the sudden lack of service creates in their lives: a Bishop's Recovery Support Group.

The next Sunday evening late I went up to the church and quietly slipped into one of those old weathered folding chairs upholstered with the bright orange padding so popular in the 70's. Around the makeshift circle in the small seminary room hidden behind the stage sat ten seemingly defeated men who nevertheless struggled to carry themselves well. While they all bore kindly eyes, and some sported the silver streaks of experience in their hair, only one was sitting up straight and preparing to speak. “Welcome Brethren! Who wants to start?

After a long, uncomfortable pause, a young, lanky gentleman cleared his throat and began. He measured his words carefully. “Hi, my name is Craig, and I'm a recovering bishop.” Heads nodded and confirming whispers filled the room. “ I was called to serve as bishop of the Spanish Fork 97th Ward when I was 29. Our sweet little Haylene was only 9 months old at the time. I loved the youth of our ward with all my heart. I spent time with them on temple trips and campouts and youth conferences. I coached them through their mission calls and broken hearts. I sat with several other couples through their communication problems and dangerous addictions. I prayed over the ward list every night, earnestly seeking the Lord's guidance- I was often directed to the less-active who were more-ready to make marvelous changes in their lives. Revelation flowed continously in my life; it was spiritually exhilirating. But then, I was released about six months ago, and now, the bishopric meetings, tithing settlement, the hospital visits, the broken, humble hearts in confidential interviews...” His voiced instinctively tightened with emotion. “Its all... all... gone now!” He held his face in his hands and wept shamelessly.

After a few long minutes and reassuring hugs, he was able to finish what he came to say. “I have learned that I have a dangerous habit of my own...” He paused one more moment before the truth tumbled out. “I am addicted to the thrill of personal joy that comes from selflessly serving others.”

The group's moderator, an aging released bishop George, let the emotional dust settle for a moment before he unpredictably directed a warm, yet penetrating stare to me. “So, you've heard about the challenges of released Bishop Craig,” he proclaimed gently, “ what brings you here today?”

“Oh, I don't have a problem at all,” I replied defensively. “I am really enjoying all the free time I now have to watch TV and read spy novels and work late and clean the basement and help my wife with the wash and blog and fix things around the house and read old Bishop letters from our ward's missionaries and...” The pace of my voice was quickening and I was growing more nervous as the list of superficial cover activities I was using to fill my empty evenings and weekends became more desperate.

“We don't believe you!” suddenly barked another man in the circle. He voiced was raised in attention, not anger. “You cannot bury the thrill of personal joy borne of selfless service with a parade of busy work you could only dream about doing when you were too busy to do it as a busy bishop.”

Another man chimed in with even more direct advice. “Heavens, man, do you realize what you have done? You have served as a Bishop! You have experienced the thrill of personal joy borne of selfless service! Once you have tasted of that joy, it is too powerful and overwhelming to abandon. You cannot get rid of it! Your only hope is to replace it with more time with your own family and your home teaching families. What about the fulltime missionaries? How many lives could you bless by taking them to visit the less-active and part-member families you met in your previous church life?”

The barrage of brutal advice was almost too much for me to bear, but I had to hear it. “Your only hope... your only hope...” My mind hung on to that phrase.

“You know,” the experienced moderator lazily started up again, “we are all gradually learning from each other in this group that there really is no recovering from service as a bishop. There is no addiction and there are no 12 steps to march through. There is really only one step. If you are a released bishop, you can only find peace by honestly admitting that faithfully fulfilling your stewardship brought you the thrill of personal joy borne of selfless service, and now it is time to seek that thrill in other worthy church service. It may take time to get used to spending Sunday mornings helping the kids get ready for church, and you still may involuntarily answer to stray bishop calls overheard in chapel hallways, but time will cure that. So, young man, do you have anything to say?”

I felt a sliver of hope in my aching soul, a soul aching to serve as I had during the last five plus years but lacking the nerve to pursue other worthy opportunities that surely the Lord would send my way. “My name is Richard,” I whispered aloud to all in the circle, “and I'm a recovering bishop.”

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