There was an order of monks... [Dealing with / managing stress]
  • ...which observed a rule of nearly absolute silence. However, the abbot asked new monks who were still in simple vows to meet with him at the end of each year, and in this meeting they were permitted to say two words to him.

    Now, at the end of one year, a certain young monk came to the abbot's study, and the abbot nodded to indicate that he should speak. "Food bad," the young monk said, and the abbot nodded and sent him away.

    The following year, the abbot again sent for the young monk. He entered, and again the abbot nodded that he should speak. "Bed hard," he said. Again, the abbot nodded and sent him away.

    Again a year passed in absolute silence, and again it was time for the young monk to speak to the abbot. He entered as before, and again the abbot nodded to indicate that she should speak. "I QUIT!" said the young monk, and stormed out.


    The first year of my Master's program, the program director told us this joke at the beginning of the course called "Issues in Church Music." He said that one of his goals was to give us the tools and the courage that we needed to succeed in church music so that we would not find ourselves like the monk -- disgruntled for years and years, keeping it more or less to ourselves, until we couldn't hold out any longer without throwing up our hands and saying, "I QUIT!"

    It's certainly a common pattern I've seen many times before, and one that over the past year I feel myself falling into more and more. Interpersonal, quasi-political things bother me more deeply than ever, and my coping mechanisms are wearing down fast. I have accrued more responsibility simultaneously in multiple domains, with only moderate reductions elsewhere. The shining sun / silver lining is the excellent relationship I have with my pastor and school principal, who are extremely supportive, and of course the many dedicated volunteers and students who give so generously and are so kind -- not to mention the supportive members of the community.

    That being said, however, this kind of work, with the kinds of frictions, uncertainties, self-doubt, stress (and the ultimate feeling of partial responsibility for people's impressions of and relationship to God and the Church) is extremely trying for the sensitive soul, even in fair weather, and certainly in conditions that feel constantly ambiguous or threateningly cloudy.

    I feel that, for every step forward, I turn over a new stone where someone was hurt or alienated by musical or liturgical developments that I support (most often things that were done before I arrived in ways in which, I think, I would not have done them, but of which / for which I am now the mouthpiece and advocate), and I realize that this is a huge part of the tension that seems to linger under the surface.

    Of course, His Holiness reaching across the sea and ruining my vacation this summer "of his own initiative" (motu proprio) only magnified all of this.

    So my question: I don't want to become the next dramatic burn-out story in sacred music --

    All you life-timers, you organists and choirmasters who sleep well at night and can live with yourselves, who don't mutter, "I hate myself" and "death" under your breath constantly throughout the day and when anything goes wrong, who don't attend daily Mass with your head buried in your hands on your knees begging God to deliver you from the weight of the responsibility you exercise and protesting your unworthiness to even consider having such a role in parish life, who don't spend days on end wishing you had studied engineering instead of music so you could do something genuinely useful and appreciated with your life -- how do you do it? What strategies do you use to cope, to get by, to thrive?

    Are you all just unfeeling sociopaths who lack empathy and thrive on making people uncomfortable or upset [/purple], or is there some way for people with normal human emotions to endure and succeed in this kind of work?

    Thanks for your help!
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 690
    Not qualified to reply, but it brought tears to my eyes and I'll pray for you.
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    I have reached the age where my retirement is quite enjoyable. However, if I do decide to play/direct again, it will not be in a Catholic parish. To paraphrase, the way many of them treat and value musicians, they really don't deserve to have any.
    Thanked by 2Lars NihilNominis
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,696
    I'm definitely an unfeeling sociopath who lacks empathy and thrives on making people upset.

    I don't know how to do purple.

    Honestly, I think there are people who are made for this weird and crazy life and there are some people who aren't. I have very thick skin and can be criticized for days and then head home and it never enters my mind again. I don't know how you develop that, but it certainly helps. Compliments bother me more than criticism... but that's because I'm an unfeeling sociopath.
  • I've heard that tale before, except that this all tolok place in the refectory and after several years the abbot said 'all you ever do is complain - go to your cell'.
  • First of all, you are not an unfeeling sociopath. Doubts about our work are quite common when we all examine ourselves, and, too, the personal chemistries that we work with can be troublesome. To begin with, though, it's very likely not you that is the problem. Perhaps a talk with your pastor, or maybe a mental health care person would be helpful.

    Also, simple nervousness about 'performance' is pretty universal. I've even read that great conductors and singer such as Domingo enter the stage battling of ugly voices telling them that they should not perform and are unworthy of it.

    I will pray for you and put you on the prayer list at Walsingham.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    While I'm happily out of the church job world, I can appreciate your stress level. The only solution for stress brought on by other folks - church office politics and gossip, warring congregants - is to walk away, physically if possible, mentally if not.
  • Drake
    Posts: 219
    I am in quite a different situation, though I sometimes find myself lamenting that I have to do all this software engineering work when I really wish I could do religious things all the time like be a church musician. But that is also a mistaken perspective.

    In difficult times, I have found the book Heliotropium, by Jeremias Drexel, very helpful. It challenges the reader, and there are times while reading it that I think, That can't be right! but it is. The answer is "O crux ave, spes unica!" Embrace God's will in all things, embrace the cross; it is God's way of saving us and making us holy. It is not easy, but it turns out to be the easiest path in the long run.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697

    I think all you need is encouragement and more avenues of grace, and maybe a little wine. :-)

    Pray a rosary - daily. (Pray for pope, bishops cardinals, priests, brothers, sisters, etc.)
    Go to confession.
    Do penance.
    Fast and pray.
    Adore the Holy Face.
    Follow Our Lady’s prescription for the First Five Saturdays. (Extremely important as heaven is very sad that hardly anyone listens to and obeys Our Mother)

    Love your wife.
    Love your kids.
    Love your neighbor.
    Love your enemy. (pray the maledictory psalms) and movement toward conversion

    Have a scotch.
    Smoke a pipe.
    Read a good book.
    Laugh more often.

    Sing Gregorian Chant and polyphony at Mass every week. (minimum)
    Talk out loud to God.
    Talk out loud to your Guardian Angel.

    Spread the Gospel.
    Speak the truth (in season and out).

    Accept your cross. (who God made you to be... you were destined for this time and place)

    Never give up.
    Never be hopeless.
    Never be silent.

    Always be holy as He is holy.
  • Thank you for your prayers, especially, and your responses.

    Charles-- In justice, to be clear, I should emphasize that I am very well treated by my employer / as an employee. It's the psychological pressures of the job itself that get me. Kind of like Matthew's purple comment.

    Matthew -- I think maybe you can just keep things in perspective. A friend pointed me in the direction of a book called "The Power of Bad," which explores our bias towards remembering / dwelling on the negative and letting that form our outlook, however comparably small it may be to the good.

    Jackson -- Yes, I have terrible performance anxiety, but strangely not as badly for liturgy. In that case, I think it is simply not about me. Thanks for the advice to seek counseling -- I have begun to do so, and it is quite helpful. Thanks for adding me to the prayer list.

    mjballou -- that's a lesson I'm learning more and more; distance is key, as is making good use the freedom to leave when able, which can be dratted hard to do. Bizarrely, been watching police interviews lately. Amazing how, in a free-will interview, when the suspect / POI is free to leave at any time, they will remain in an uncomfortable and high-pressure interview, without counsel, and incriminate themselves, rather than simply walking out the door when the temperature goes up, as they have every right to do, and which cannot be used against them in court.

    Drake -- Thank you for the converse perspective! Everybody's blessing is a cross, too, and all kinds of work are certainly such.

    francis -- thanks so very much for that wonderful litany of good and holy advice. That was very appreciated.

    As an update: I'm doing somewhat better. I also took complete ownership of my physical "locations" at my workplace last week, and purged more freely than ever before, tidied, deep cleaned, de-cluttered, and decorated / arranged. Part of my stress is that I am a pushover of a personality if I'm not careful. Felt good to take command, and to realize that, with all my faults, I'm what they've got for a musician here, and I'd better give it my all, regardless.
    Thanked by 3CHGiffen Carol francis
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 258
    It seems like you are making yourself responsible for the actions / reactions of others. Your duty is to treat others with kindness, respect -- and justice. Once you have done that, how they react to you is up to them not up to you. Give others the dignity of being autonomous and sometimes fallen human beings.

    It sounds like you were hired to bring a particular vision to your job and parish. It that is the case, you should explain that vision, the reasons for it, and listen to others when they give you feedback on that vision. Maybe you can incorporate that feedback into your vision. Maybe you cannot. But sometimes it is appropriate after a full discussion to say to someone, "I appreciate what you have to say, but given the importance of the reasons for doing what I am doing, I am not going to change my mind." How someone reacts to that is up to them.
    Thanked by 2Elmar NihilNominis
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,472
    You didn't quote the joke correctly!
    After the third time the monk comes back and says "I Quit", the abbot replies: well! I am not surprised, you have been complaining ever since you got here!