This time away from pastoral responsibilities is almost over and I look back in gratitude and awe at my life during these last 3 months.
As I began the sabbatical I had a lot of conflicting emotions. I was always grateful for the time that I was given but also felt somewhat guilty. Wouldn’t everyone like to receive a summer like this.
And there was also anxiety about the church in my absence.
As I prepared for the sabbatical I named three aspects to it: renewal, remembering and preparation. And it really has been exactly that and looking back I am awed as seeing the hand of God at work during this time.
The renewal has come gradually. But a key element for it was a silent retreat – 6 days away from my daily life and devoted entirely to God. And in that time I was able to mourn the loss of my sister, to face my need for control and to receive God’s unconditional love. I heard God’s voice and it was as clear as day saying these words: “Let me Love You.”
The remembering was, I believe, inspired and guided by God. It began in May with a weekend with my girls as I remembered my life from mid twenties to mid fifties. But this summer I went backwards to the places of the early years of my first marriage, my college days and my childhood. What I have seen in this was the blessing and the call of God throughout my life. I could also see how I have grown through my struggles and through mistakes. God’s grace is abundant and God has led me to become this woman that I am in this time and place.
The preparation has been gradual as I have remembered the power of the call to ministry. Several things stand out for me.
• I went to a workshop on shame and hope at Chautauqua and learned again about the power of love and started to become excited about returning to that unique role of being a pastor – which is essentially loving a congregation.
• I went to First Community Church and heard Dick Wing preach and recognized how meaningful and important good preaching is. Sundays are relentless for the preacher as it comes around every week – but it is such a creative process. I feel ready to go back into the pulpit this weekend. .
• I read books – most especially A Failure of Nerve and want to become more mature in my leadership. To quote Edwin Friedman:
“What is essential are stamina, resolve, remaining connected, the capacity for self regulation of reactivity, and having horizons beyond what one can actually see.” YES!
And interestingly we become self differentiated as we are able to face our own story and our own dynamics from our family of origin. Tied right in to my times of remembering!
Through the summer I have also had opportunities of ministry with various people: People we have visited, people who have crossed paths with me, the 2 folks I direct every month and the community at Advance Conference. That has been a blessing for me – to look back and see that this has not all been about me – but God has used me to companion others even though I am not officially in role as pastor.
Maybe the most important part of what has happened is that I have had a sense of moving from my usual compulsive life to a more contemplative way. It has been really lovely to have time – to not have to hurry from this to that because of the next meeting or appointment. The time has changed something inside of me, I think. I hope.
Yesterday I had a vision which I am still processing that speaks to this. I am reading a book, Bio Spirituality, for the wellstreams class which starts tomorrow and practiced “focusing.”
In a time of deep prayer I asked myself what was preventing me from happiness right now. And as ideas came up, the most pressing one was fear of the future – the fear of “going back into it” the way I came out of it. And then an image came – of being in a clothes dryer – just tumbling around. What a disturbing image that is.
After a while I pondered the other way that clothes are dried – on the clothes line. A piece at a time, drying in the sun and the breeze, slowly. And that is what I desire for my life. That is what God desires for my life. That I can slow down and still have the same result – but with care, contemplation, and trust in God.
It has been a good summer and I feel ready and excited about whatever God has for me to do this fall.