March 2nd, 2016

hound of heaven

Peace and Hope

Today, in our District clergy meeting, Superintendent Groves asked us what was most important to us, right now. We discussed it in small groups. With the caveat that, of course, the most important thing of all to each of us was our relationship with Jesus Christ, my group shared a number of things.

For me, I said the dominant thing in my life right now is a kind of sorrow. I see my country falling apart. The likely nominees of both major parties who must address this are both appallingly unsuitable. I see my Church -- the UMC -- tearing itself apart. General Conference may not jump off the cliff, but it may not accomplish anything to stop the disintegration of our denomination, either. I am at an oddly fragile time in my own life, as I try to navigate my sixties and make progress toward my goals. I'm not even sure what those goals should be right now. I worry about my daughter and her family finding a permanent home. I worry about what will happen to my son, long-term.

So, I said to the group that the most important things in my life right now are Peace and Hope. They're what I'm intensely longing for. I acknowledge, of course, that Jesus is my Peace and my Hope, and if all other security in life is taken from me, I will cling to him and ride out the storm to whatever end it finally takes me. But, if my prayers could be answered, I would like to live in a free country like the one I have known all my life, and belong to a Church that still believes in the things I vowed to teach and maintain forty years ago, and feel more confident about my own direction right now, and not have to worry about my children.

Every day, I put these things in God's hands. Only then can I turn my attention away, toward those things that must be done this day: to serve him as single-mindedly as I can. But at the end of the day, every day, there they all still are. And it must all be done again. This is just what I'm living with, until further notice.

Keeping it together

A follow-up to my post about yesterday's clergy meeting. Another question we were asked concerned where we turn and how we hold ourselves together in times of severe stress (which, for most clergy is, like, all the time). Again, I can only share my answer.

I'm an introvert, and people wear me out, yea, even those I love dearly. My need for quiet and alone-time means that I carry a limited number of intimate friends that I keep up with, whom I can turn to in times of turbulence. I mean, there are only a few people who really charge up my batteries, with whom I don't have to be "on." And those folks are very widely scattered. Our schedules and distances are such that I have to ration times with them, like rationing water in crossing the beautiful, but arid, backcountry.

And if I let myself get run down, worn out, then my physical tiredness makes me prey to all kinds of mental and spiritual dreck. In order to keep my inner self clean and clear and able to relate to people as Jesus would have me do, I must get my rest and renew my energies regularly. When I don't do that, everything is just miles and miles of Plain Awful. And then I can't see or smell even those lovely roses thrown my way by so many of the people I work with; I only see and feel the thorns.

I'm glad that in our professional life today, we are encouraged -- constantly -- to not neglect our self-care. So many of us clergy, like myself, are driven, goal-oriented, "everything matters" kind of people. We want to save every soul and succeed in every endeavor, and push the cart up the hill even if it takes our last strength. And the truth is, it can't be done. Even Jesus knew his physical and emotional limits, and when he'd had enough, he just -- left. Headed out to the wilderness. Got away from people. Even though he loved them, even though there were people standing in line, crying out to be healed or delivered or comforted.

It's a hard lesson to learn. I have to re-learn it constantly. Every so often, I manage to run myself completely into the ground. And I have to tell myself, "You can't do it without Jesus" is only half true; doing it with Jesus means keeping close to him, and he beckons his disciples from time to time to come away to a place apart.