I used to write for fun. I used to write for spiritual health. I used to write. And then the things I wanted to write about became things I couldn’t publish because they were too personal, or too close to the people I was serving as minister. I could have gotten in trouble and possibly hurt feelings of the people I was serving by publishing the things I needed to say for my spiritual health, and for theirs. And I couldn’t afford to be fired. So, I stopped writing.
(Humble brag) I’m pretty good with words. I tend to be very intentional with the words that I choose, though like all of us I am occasionally careless with my words. I like to create pictures with words, draw people in, tell a good story, spin a good yarn. I enjoy the work of building to a point, a climax and then revealing the point possibly drawing the reader or the hearer to a new understanding of themselves, or the subject, or both. I quit writing when I was too scared of who would read it. And that really added to my anxiety disorder.
I left the dis-health of a church refusing to thrive and was called to lead a new church where I thought I would being to write again. I thought all I needed was some space and I would be able to write again. I thought if I could find some inspiration and some joy and some blessing, I would have something to write about again. I continued to write newsletter articles, but I couldn’t find my way into a safe space to write about ministry anymore, not in the way I was writing before. Then the “new” church I had been called to devoured me. In the most painful of ways, my calling to ministry swallowed me whole. Some people of the church, many people of the church wanted something I couldn’t give them, 1965 or even 1985. And they blamed me for not being able to reach their desire. (You can’t always get what you want…..), but they didn’t want what they needed, they wanted what they wanted, at any cost. And what was it to them to destroy a minister that got in the way of having what they wanted? They had done it before. So…I never started writing again.
As I sit here writing now, I feel the painful but cathartic relief of what happens when I write. I would liken it to treating a severe burn, or deep wound; at the top layers are healing the scab has to be peeled away so that the healing can happen from the inside. And as I begin to skim the surface of my pain, and attempt to remove the scar tissue of anxiety that has been born out of this painful time in ministry, it hurts, physically to write, but it also feels incredible.
I’ve been serving in yet a different church for about nine months now, and we are still getting to know one another. I have been reintroduced to what it feels like to be loved by a congregation. I’ve been welcomed, and I get lots of positive feedback and encouragement from most of the members. There are a few who want to challenge, but the leadership here has that under control. They are happy to get behind leadership that says, “this behavior is not acceptable,” which is very different from my last church where I was encouraged to just deal with it, let it go, not take it so personally. There were people who loved me at the last congregation, but eventually they became the people who were saving me, keeping me sane, evening out the crazy I was surrounded by, rather than the leadership who were leading the church as agents of change.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself, we are still in the honeymoon phase, but we have more values in common than the last church and I did, and I feel very safe and loved here.
That said, the transition has been hard. My husband has been unemployed for almost five months. This move across the country has been a big change. Our limited income triggers all of my anxieties about scarcity. I stay afraid a lot; which is exhausting, and physically painful. I feel more distant from God most of the time, than I have in a long time. Every sermon feels like I am scraping the bottom of an empty barrel, which is my burned and healing soul. Every sermon feels like I am dry but keep trying to squeeze a little more out. And somehow, most weeks, there is still enough for a sermon. And it’s not just a sermon that feels like I squeezed a few more drops of water out of an empty well, but it feels like a sermon that stands, and has depth and meaning.
Yesterday, one of the church members, who understands what I am struggling with, came to me and thanked me. She looked me in the eye and thanked me for going through what I am going though in order to serve this church. It was such an honest moment. A moment of grace. A moment of being seen that gives voice to pain that goes unspoken. And I was so grateful for that, but then, Dayenu…God did more. She went on to say, “you do all of this with such grace and you make it look easy.” I breathed a little deeper in that moment, because it didn’t hurt so much.
It is amazing what it feels like to be seen, acknowledged, named, and graced with compassion. It’s a little like being loved by God, who sees us for who we really are and loves us anyway, and not as a consolation prize, but because God loves deeply, God loves us with all of God’s love.
That was enough to make me want to write again. I’m not sure if I want to publish yet, but maybe that would be a good practice to draw some accountability.
Gracious Spirit who fills the burnt and healing vessel that is my soul, who holds my hand as we peel away what must be removed in order to get healthier, who breathes with and through me when it hurts to breathe through the anxiety, who cradles me when I am lonely and afraid, and reminds me I am not alone, I do not hate life or anything about it even though the voice of evil would try to make me believe that I hate, thank you for protecting me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for helping me see beyond myself. May I continue to be a vessel for you to fill and use as a servant of the one who redeems me. Amen.