Monday, February 27, 2012

Scars

There are two blog postings I’ve been planning to write since last week.  When I sat down with my laptop ten minutes ago, I planned to launch into one of them.  But I just can’t.  The purpose of this blog was for me to process my faith, thoughts, feelings, and actions.  I need to be true to that.  So, what’s really on my mind…
Anyone who works with people has to handle conflict…that means EVERY person in the world.  Some professions make this more likely than others.  I have a friend who works for the state taxation department; she handles lots of angry citizens on the phone.  I have a twin sister who is a teacher.  After only one year of teaching myself, I can attest to the amount of conflict teachers handle.  (I’ve deleted my soap box on this issue down to this:  Most teachers want to teach, to guide, and to help.  They make 1,000 decisions a day.  They will make mistakes.  So do you, and so do your children.  Please keep all of that in mind when you criticize them.)
The pastorate is one of the professions that handles conflict regularly.  We handle conflict amongst ourselves, as co-workers.  As a pastor to students, I handle conflict between myself and parents, myself and teens, myself and volunteer youth workers, conflict between parents and teens, conflict between parents and youth workers, conflict between teens and youth workers, and for heaven’s sakes, there’s plenty of conflict between and amongst teens themselves.
Some of the popular, big-name pastors these days advocate ignoring criticism, which often comes forth during conflict.  I just can’t accept that.  Certainly, there are some criticisms worth ignoring.  For example, a peer during seminary was criticizing a professor’s Biblical interpretation.  The professor responded, “Joey, you and I fundamentally disagree about the nature of God and the Gospel.   There’s no point in us arguing about this.”   Sometimes agreeing to disagree is necessary, and in those cases, ignoring criticism is sometimes warranted.
But sometimes, God speaks to us through criticism.  Sometimes we’re wrong.  Sometimes we miss the mark (one of the meanings of the word, “sin”).  Sometimes we unintentionally hurt someone.  Sometimes there’s truth in the criticism, and it hurts to hear it, but it can call us to repentance and reconciliation.
Oftentimes, the criticism isn’t even the issue at all.  More often than not, when someone is criticizing, they’re acting out a hurt they feel.  Sometimes they’ve been disappointed by me, and they’re retaliating with an issue that’s not really the issue at all.  Sometimes they’ve been hurt or let down by someone else or by God or by the church, and they’re lashing out.  Is it fair?  No.  Does it hurt?  Yes.  Is it an opportunity to be a pastor, to listen, and to guide toward healing?  Yes.
Even when I can keep the above in mind, and even when I’m able to hear the criticism, to listen, and to respond without defensiveness, it still hurts.  I’m learning that I still need to sit, to pray, to talk, and to cry. 
Sometimes the verbal attacks leave scars. 
I think Jesus once showed people his scars to prove that he was real and that he was himself.
I have some scars.  It’s okay.  They make me me.  They make me real.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Struggling for the Steadfast Spirit

I’m still praying, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  I’m still praying it, because I’ve yet to experience the renewal of a steadfast spirit.  It’s been a week of monotony, details, sickness, sleeplessness, disappointment I’ve received, and disappointment I’ve doled out to others.  I find disappointing others to be more exhausting than being disappointed.
Yet, if I lift my head out of the mud for a minute, I see God reaching down to sustain me.  I’m reminded that I haven’t been praying for a joyous spirit, or an exuberant spirit, or an overflowing spirit; it’s a steadfast spirit I’m after.  When I have no more care within me to give, when documenting one more check or responding to one more e-mail just may push me over the edge, when I intermittingly hear the baby’s cries through the husband’s NyQuil-induced snores, when the tears of I-just-cannot-continue-like-this threaten to spill over, I receive words of encouragement that sustain me…for one more day, or evening, or hour, or five more minutes.
Instead of dwelling on all that’s weighed me down recently, I remember…
A Facebook post from a “fringe student,” who admittedly doesn’t come around regularly, but who wanted to  make sure I knew what a difference I’d made in her life—more of a difference than her irregular participation in the student ministry conveyed. 
Keep going; It’s worth it.
An e-mail from the mother of a student in my small group letting me know that her daughter loves being in my small group, but specifically just loves a chance to be with me every week.  Her daughter’s only complaint—I just wish I could get more time to talk with Angie individually.
You’re doing what you’re made to do; keep doing it.
A phone call from a former student at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, while we’re both wrapping up our small group plans for later that evening.  After being a student in my group for years, he now leads a student small group at another church.  In his preparations, he read about what small, genuine, Christian community looks like.  He called to thank me for creating that kind of community in our old small group, and for embodying that kind of community in who I am.  He asked that I hang up the phone knowing God has used me to bless his life.
There are more students like him who I intend for you to bless.
Finally, two high school students share Frostys and French fries with me sitting on a swing set on a beautiful afternoon, but we share more than snacks; we share secrets.  They confide their biggest, deepest secrets in me; they entrust me with fragile information.  This is true, honest, holy ground.
This is who you are and what you do.  Persevere. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Steadfast Spirit

One of the Scripture verses I claimed for 2012 was Psalm 51:10:  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
In January, God worked extensively in my heart, and I prayed “create in me in a pure heart, O God” over and over and over.  It was an anthem I said at 3 a.m. treks to the nursery, in the shower, in the car, at work, at home in the madness of cooking/eating/bathing, and putting kids to bed.  My heart is far from pure, but God and I are working on it and making progress, and I’m still praying part one of that verse almost every day.
Now, it’s the second part, the “b” part of this verse, that’s haunting me.  I need a steadfast spirit.  My spirit fluctuates depending upon my mood, my family’s moods, my schedule, my family’s schedule, and what feels like a hundred other variables.
Renew a steadfast spirit within me.
I’m a pretty stable person; although my husband may disagreeJ  I’m fairly consistent and dependable.  I’m easy to read, and if you know me, it’s pretty easy to guess my reactions.  My in-laws used to complain that I was too reserved.   (Maybe they still do, and I just don’t know.)
But I’m struggling to have a steadfast spirit.  I’m tired.  Then, adrenaline kicks in, and I’m in the moment, and things are going great…and then I crash.
Saturday morning my son was at my parents’ after a sleepover, and my husband took our daughter out for work errands.  I made a list of everything I was going to do while they were gone; alone time like this is a rare gift, and I intended to accomplish lots:  finally pack up the lingering Christmas decorations (yes, really), wash the dishes, fold the clean laundry, clip coupons, peruse grocery store sales, make the grocery list, scrub the master bath that never gets cleaned, make Valentine’s gifts, take down the Christmas lights on the front porch to help out my husband, take a shower, start cooking homemade spaghetti sauce.  Like most moms, I overestimate how much I can get done in a finite about of time.
Then they left.  The internal list in my head that runs NONSTOP, ALL DAY, EVERY DAY of what I need to do just stopped.  I sat in a recliner and didn’t move for a while.  Then, I went to the kitchen to retrieve the two items I can always count on—Tostitos and salsa.  I put on Julie & Julia (or is it Julia & Julie; I’m too lazy to look it up).  I went into a vegetative state.  The last time I remember entering that level of relaxation was on college holidays.  I didn’t think or move, except to move my lower arm from the bag to my mouth; repeat.
Then I started feeling anxious; I was wasting time, and I’d never get it back; there was so much to do!  I got up and ran to get cleaned up.  I glanced at the Blu-Ray player; I was 35 minutes into my movie.  35 minutes.  In college, I could’ve continued in that vegetative state for at least 3 hours.  Now, 35 minutes seems to be the max I can allow myself to shutdown.
I’m not exactly sure what all the above indicates, but I feel like it’s related to my plea to God to renew a steadfast spirit within me.
I also pray this prayer for my husband.  He has worked something like 25 straight days without a day off.  He’s not the workaholic type.  He’s the type who enjoys people, ideas, process, and conversation.  His job is bustling right now, and he’s enjoying it.  But this cannot go on much longer.  My attempts to get him away for a day or two have been hindered at almost every turn.  I’ve got two days booked in March…a month away…but the inability to find childcare is threatening that already.
Renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Renew a steadfast spirit within him.
Last night threw us another curveball.  When I arrived home after work to prepare dinner for the kids and change into my Valentine’s date attire, I came home to a baby girl with bright red cheeks.  She had a 103 fever, and she just wanted her Momma.  I wanted to hold my baby girl; I also really wanted a night out with my husband.  But, of course we cancelled the date and stayed home.  For the first time in 15 years, my husband had a Valentine who wasn’t me.

And, that feverish baby girl fell asleep at 6 p.m. and slept propped up on Mom or Dad until 5:30 a.m.  That’s the most she’s ever slept at once, and it granted us sleep, too.  I have a suspicion that rest and steadfast spirits have quite a lot in common.
Renew a steadfast spirit within us.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pastors and Priests

I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews in the Bible for several months now.  Amongst other ideas about Christ, angels, faith, and rest, this book has prompted me to reflect on this role I fill—ordained pastor.  I do feel as if God has set me apart and called me to ministry.  It’s an honor, a privilege, a burden, and something I approach with caution.  As Spiderman says, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  I feel that responsibility to show people God, to teach them about Him, to lead them closer to Him, to represent Him, to speak His truth.
Hebrews 5:2-4 says of a priest, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.  This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.  No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.”
This is a large part of what I do.  I try to deal gently (most of the time) with people who lack knowledge of God and are sometimes going astray.  I am certainly subject to weakness, and I do feel called by God.
Later in Hebrews it says, “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” (7:12) Now, the law dictates who can be a priest, so changing the priesthood really would change the law in the Old Testament.  But this also makes me think of other changes in leadership.  Every time a new CEO, or principal, or college President, or pastor, or TV show host takes a position, they have to make changes, make their mark, set the tone for their leadership.
I think of this as I give away sections of the student ministry at my church.  As another considers taking the lead on the junior high ministry, or the mission trip, or the retreat, I have to be willing to let them make their changes, make their marks, and set the tones for their unique leadership approaches.
I also think of this in light of an e-mail I read recently in which Rick Warren was processing the passing of the leadership baton at his church from the first generation to the next generation.  In his words, you could hear the pain and joy, grief and hope that accompany this transition.  There is a change of priesthood in his church, and there will be changes in how that church creates, functions, leads, and pastors.
As a side note, this is one of the things I love about reading the Bible.  Words written a long, long time ago by an unknown human hand had perfect relevance to the original audience of Jews trying to grapple with this new Jesus movement.  And those words have perfect relevance to us now, too.  I love that!
I kept reading in Hebrews this morning, and I came upon this passage:
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.  Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (7:23-25)
None of us pastors or priests will continue in our offices forever; death will prevent that.  But, we all have a priest who will never die.  He lives forever, always exercising the duties of priesthood.  He can save us, and all those for whom we care, completely!  We cannot save anyone partially.  He always saves.  He always lives.