2018: The year of “Balance”

Earlier this year on Epiphany Sunday, I drew my personal “star word” for 2018. I first heard of this practice from another RevGal, Rev. Marci Glass. (You can read more about it here.) For the last several years, I’ve chosen a word and used it for reflection. Just as God guided the Magi to the Christ Child, so God guides me.

This year, my word was “Balance.” My initial reaction was “very funny, God.” My second thought was, “ooohhhh, OUCH.”

This year has completely been about Balance. Balance about my health. About my family’s changing needs. About my adjustment to the day-to-day professional challenges of being a hospice chaplain. About wanting to be an advocate in the public arena. About leadership in a national non-profit. About choosing when to write and what to write about.

Balance.

You can call it “chance” that I ended up with that word. But I suspect that the Spirit knew what I needed to see hanging over my desk, day in, day out.  Do I have it all figured out? Am I now a truly “balanced” person? Well, no. But I can honestly say that I know now when I am out-of-balance and have to stop and get my equilibrium.

Recently, I made a decision to step back from a leadership role. There were many reasons, but the bottom line was that I recognized how out-of-balance the stress from that role was for me personally and spiritually. I’m not someone who backs down from a challenge! (If you know me at all, you’ve figured that out.) The health challenges of my body got my attention. The emotional stress reinforced it was the right decision. Self-care is sometimes very, very hard and I am too stubborn for my own good. (I write more about this here…)

I returned to the words of a song by Carolyn McDade which reminded me why I was out of balance. I was taking on more than God had called me to do.

“No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.”

It’s not selfish to make choices for your own growth and self-care. It’s not irresponsible to say “no, I’m sorry, I can’t” to a request for a very good and meaningful cause. It’s not impossible to admit you can’t handle the toxic situation you stumbled into rather blindly. And most of all, it’s not a bad thing to fulfill your obligations – until you simply can’t do it any more.

And, beloved, when you find that “sweet spot” — that place of Balance — it is very, very good. Just the way we are Created to be.

 

Pruning

5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”
John 15, TNIV

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It’s an old, stately crabapple tree. Every year I wait with anticipation for the first blossoms to unfurl. Every year, it is covered, almost overnight, in these deep pink blooms, and the sound of the bees reveling in the branches is like a dull roar. Every year, the petals drop off and cover the front walk with a pink confetti. It’s the first of many trumpets of spring at our house. And it seemed pretty healthy for an older tree…

Yes, there was some sign of disease. There was some dead wood further out from the trunk, but most of that branch had lots of green leaves, and the crabapples had set on after blooming this spring. To our surprise, in a wind gust Sunday, the branch cracked and fell to the ground, blocking the entire driveway! Yes, it was not the healthiest branch on the tree. But it looked OK. At least, it appeared to be.

As my husband sawed it it apart and cleared the driveway, we saw that part of the main support for this branch was hollow all the way through. It appeared alive on the outside. And it was dead, completely dead on the inside. There was no way to sustain life. No way to support new growth. And much of the rest of the branch was well on its way to self-destruction.

BAM. Critical mass reached. Tipping point engaged. Good-bye, branch!

In my studies in church growth, church planting, and chaplaincy, I have learned about the phenomena of a “sick system.” This is when a constellation of relationships appear to be a healthy system, but are actually a very “sick” system. Under stress, or continued neglect, that which appears to be working for the moment is disastrous in the long-haul.

The bottom line: when the pressure comes for new growth and new direction, faking it doesn’t make it any more.

I’ve been reflecting on this as I read the latest round of op-ed pieces on church health, church growth and church sustainability. Millennials will engage if we do x, y and z. Boomers and Busters need a program which includes a, b, and c. I read lots of church gurus’ suggestions and mandates. I hear about innovative approaches. I meet passionate, praying, and caring pastors who are following the latest trends and hoping this will be the “multi-vitamin of Jesus” that their anemic church needs. And… I note that the very cancer which has been dogging their footsteps has never been treated.

What might this “cancer” be? Self-centeredness. Anger. Self-righteousness. Prejudice. Misogyny. Homophobia. Transphobia. Entitlement. Exhaustion. Fear of change.

Church… we gotta get over ourselves. That’s the plain facts. The issues we “church people” argue about are not only unimportant, they don’t contribute to the overall health of the church! People OUTSIDE the church really and truly don’t care about our sacred cows and holy hobby horses. They DO NOT CARE.

Really… NO ONE CARES if you had Sunday School at 9 and worship at 10:30 since Solomon built the Temple.

NO ONE CARES if you wear robes/collars/vestments/T-shirts/open-toed shoes.

NO ONE CARES if you use a rock band/pipe organ/bagpipes for worship. (OK, maybe I do care about the bagpipes.)

NO ONE CARES what version of the Bible you use.

NO ONE CARES if you do all sorts of things for God, but never just sit and BE with God.

NO ONE CARES who uses which bathroom.

No one, that is, EXCEPT the people who perpetuate the system. (cough cough: look in the mirror :cough cough)

It’s simply comes down to this… if we (and I am the first in this line of “we”) do not grapple with the things which make us ineffective and dilute the power of the Holy Spirit in our churches, our lives and our world, we will never change. And, more importantly, we will not succeed in bringing about change and hope to those who are desperately seeking it. And if we (and again, I include myself!) do not consider where we have made the Church into a hobby and not into a passion, we doom our energies from the start.

I don’t think we (ahem — I) need a another new start or a new program. The journey to healthy growth begins in the heart. It is the pushing, the challenging, the reshaping, the pruning by God. It is the consistent, guiding hand of God. And then. when I’ve mastered some baby steps in change, it points to other places where I need to prune some more. A lot more, actually. It’s shaping the pastor who prays and leads and prays some more.

The result? Pain. Loss. And amazing new growth. In myself. In the work that God calls me to. In the people around me that God cares about more than I possibly can. That’s what I’m going for. Change that means God gives… and takes away.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord…
You give and take away,
My heart will choose to say,
“Blessed be the Name of the Lord”

Blessed be.

Success and “Succesful” – what’s the fuss all about?

MaryEllen Tribby posted an article about “The Success Indicators” on the HuffPost Small Business blog. That was in September 2012. It didn’t get a lot of notice or airtime until this graphic came to light around New Years.

I linked to it on my Facebook page despite the typos. (You DID see them, didn’t you?) I felt it had a positive and thought-provoking message. Apparently there are lots of detractors. If you go back and read Tribby’s post, you will discover that she came up with this list after studying entrepeneurs and what traits were in common among the successful ones.

It’s not rocket science. Generally speaking, generous and creative people are more fun to be around than attention-seeking, self-aggrandizing ones. They are more rewarding to work for, too. And many entrepreneurs I’ve met decide to go into business for themselves because they have a passion and a vision that does not fit in corporate boxes.

So why all the heartburn about this graphic? Is it a big “FAIL” because there are typos on the chart? (BTW – an edited version has been up on the website for some time… you can find it here!)

People-3

Is it too “judgmental” because it suggests causation instead of trends in one’s personal attitudes and actions? Is it too stratified and not integrative? Can someone try to encompass all of the “successful” traits and still not achieve their goals of financial acumen? It’s probably a mix of above.

If you go back to Libby’s article and her website, you can put this graphic in context. Her point is not that one puts OTHER people in categories, but that we look that these traits and consider where and how one can personally grow. In management terms, it’s called a “Personal Growth Management” plan. (Google that one and you’ll find books, seminars, and much more.)

There’s more to this from a Christian perspective. When I began to pray about what I would keep as my goals and plans for 2013, I considered some of the categories of spiritual growth which were important to me. There’s really not one tool or image that can portray them all. The Navigators use a “wheel”. Other groups suggest it has a blueprint that you follow (very strictly and carefully). Or they envision spiritual formation as a tree or as an continuous path of growth like a chambered nautilus.

The point was, for me, where have I been growing? And what are my next steps to continue growing and strengthening my faith walk? I found there was plenty of room for change in my life. I don’t want to stagnate. And the Holy Spirit is quite gracious to keep nudging me along.

Here’s the real kicker… we all have those “moments” where we lean towards the “unsuccessful” traits. We don’t want to change. We say we want to achieve one goal and then self-sabotage. We act more like power-hungry valet, Thomas than like Anna, the sweet head housemaid. (If you aren’t getting that Downton Abbey illustration, wander over here. ) I can decide to grow through and past my personal limitations and failures, or I can use them as excuses. Being human I will probably do both in the coming year. Being optimistic, I’ll keep striving towards more consistently representing my faith and God by becoming “successful.” Eventually!