is really just patience, the art of not trying to make things happen before the times and seasons that God, and only God, knows are best. It is the act of surrendering agendas and timetables of our own design to the better plan of the One who sees everything from a better vantage point, namely eternity. Such a surrender can be a difficult thing because it means giving up the cherished sense of identity we ascribe to the illusion of being in control of every aspect of our world.
I received a phone call yesterday from OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center) asking me to consider if I could move my participation in a Uganda Health Team from mid August to early September. It was for a good reason, they had health care practitioners that could only make it for the mission team at that time. I, however, could not.
It isn’t a complete loss because I simply moved my application and my funding to place me in Tanzania later this year, helping the local clergy and sharing the Faith. Yet it was kind of disappointing as well because I had prayed, fundraised, prepared, planned, researched, and sent letters overseas in the hope that in just a few weeks I would be in Uganda. A part of my heart was already there. I thought the hand of God was in this.
So now comes the task of untangling myself and rearranging all the details. It can be done. I’ve done it before. I’m grateful for the quick assistance of my Senior Priest and Bishop who enabled me to make a quick decision by their blessing. OCMC will change all the travel arrangements. No money will be lost. Good work will still be done. The next months will be spent learning about Tanzania, picking up some of the language, and finding out how I need to serve.
I may, however, never know the movements of God behind all of this. Originally I had hoped to go to Ghana and then a pregnancy in my office changed the whole schedule and rerouted me to Uganda where everything was ready to go until the last minute. Then it changed. It is, as we Orthodox like to say, a mystery and the answer may never come.
Yet I need to trust that the hand of God is working in my life even if I don’t always see it or understand the specifics. Perhaps I’ll know in time. Perhaps not until that day. Still, there is a reason and all I can do is pray and take one step in front of the other.
The next week brings the untangling process. I’ll need to rearrange the travel insurance. There’s a Metropolitan Bishop in Uganda to whom I have to send my regrets. I have to check the paperwork and relearn details. On the whole I would rather have been on cruise control in these coming weeks. Now I need to start over.
Yet, its not my will but God’s be done and one step in front of the other.
for a perfect Lent, you know, the kind where everything lined up just as it was supposed to be, the food, the services, the plans for doing this and that.
Then life intervened.
There was family to take care of, extra hours at work, health issues of my own, snow storms, the list goes on. In the face of it all it wasn’t long before my well thought out plans to make all the services, read all the ingredients on the food boxes, and spend hours in spiritual reading sort of fell away. Whatever it is I thought I was going to accomplish came with a big stamp on the box that now reads “Not This Year”.
In looking back at it, as I try to make of Lent what I can in the swirl of things, the operative thing seems to be “My” plans. Now I’m not saying that it’s not good to plan for Lent. One of the great gifts of our Faith is the two Sundays prior to Lent when we can ponder the time to come and ease into its life. What I have discovered, again, is, however, that if it’s about “My” plans then it’s probably not going to work out so well.
There are two errors, perhaps, in observing Lent. The first is to simply ignore it as some kind of anachronistic ritual with little meaning in the real world. The reality is our American culture is a gluttonous culture, gluttonous for everything, and we and I need the spirit and reality of Lent now more than ever. The second trap may be just the opposite, that is to make Lent an end in itself, to keep its technicalities and miss the larger picture.
In my case I wanted a Lent with no “mistakes” where all the required observances were met with precision and I could look back on things with a sense of accomplishment. What I got was a busy, crazy, world of people who just needed someone to help them, tired days and nights, swirls of events beyond my control, and the reality that I’m going to be one of those “11th hour” people mentioned in the Paschal Homily.
What I had hoped for, the “ideal” Lent, isn’t going to happen. What I didn’t want to happen, namely that I would fall into Pascha all banged up, tired, and in tatters, seems to be the current trajectory. Yet since God’s power is manifest in my time of weakness and His grace is sufficient for me I still long for the banquet to come and the joy of saying, as frazzled as I am, “Christ is Risen”.
From Philippians chapter 3…
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
things to bear as a Pastor/Priest is when the people whose struggles you have born, whose tears you have comforted, whose cares you have endured, turn on you, especially in your hour of need. This happens, a lot. For every member of the clergy who has sinfully and horribly abused members of their communities there are many more pastors who have been abused by their parishes. Long hours, Ridiculously low pay. Extraordinary demands, Constant back biting and critique. The list goes on and an increasing number of clergy have simply given up and gone back into the world for the sake of their sanity, their families, and their souls.
I know. I’ve been there. I know what its like to be curled up on the floor of a parsonage in tears because the deacons fired you for no good reason. I know what its like to have people literally yell at you and actively plot to hurt you, your ministry, and your reputation. Some of the cruelest people I’ve ever experienced in my life have been regular church goers. The wounds are deep, lingering, and profound.
To this day I always keep at least one eye open at all times when dealing in church matters not because I like the way that feels but rather because hard experience has made this a necessity for survival. I have no intention of reliving any of those sad moments and exposing myself or the ones I love to that kind of hurt. I look for hidden agendas, for the lies that are inevitably told, for the game within the game. I’d love to give myself to people without reserve, without fear, without care, but to do so is to be unwise. There’s a difference between a martyr and a fool and in time you realize that if you’re bled dry there’ll be nothing at all left to share.
I know this sounds harsh, even cynical. I desperately don’t want to be that way but as they say “Once bitten twice shy” and the truth is that I, and many others who’ve tried to work out the call of God to serve in the Church, have been gnawed on through the skin to the bone. You never forget that, even if you want to, and it makes you feel bad for feeling that way even as you know you have to hold something back so there’s some shelter when the walls cave in. And they will.
So why write this?
Part of it is reflection on a friend from the “way back days” who is going through this whole thing for himself, again. He’s not a jerk. He’s not a heretic. He’s not slept with anyone. Yet that didn’t stop a parish from rolling him. I feel sad for him, his wife, his family, and angry too that he’s going to have to walk some of the path I and thousands of others in ministry have had to travel. It makes my heart ache.
The other part of it is for you, the reader, to hear the personal side of my story so you realize those of us who try our best to serve God and you as Priests, Pastors, and Ministers, have made ourselves vulnerable for your sakes. We lay our lives open on an all day, every day, basis and when you turn on us its a very serious thing and can leave a lifetime of scars. Yes, there are clergy out there who teach heresy and need to be removed. There are a very small group of clerics who will take financial, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse of the people in their flocks. Sometimes, even, a Pastor has done all they can in one place and needs to be renewed in another. This all happens. Yet for the very most part we really are, as far as humanly possible, trying to serve you with our best efforts. We really do care. We really want you to have the life God would have for you. And we really hurt when you take the gifts we offer and trample on them.
All I ask, for myself and for those who serve you in the church, is that you realize this and think before you make that harsh remark. Think before you say the unkind word behind our backs. Think before you consider how to hurt us. Think before you add one more unrealistic demand on the dozens already on our plate. Think hard before you decide you’re better off without us and that the next one coming down the line will better suit your needs. Think before you project your own darkness on us.
Above all pray for us. Most of us will never say out loud the things I’ve just said. Most of us will work through our hurts, try our best to forgive, and find a way to carry on. Most of us will bear our wounds in silence. Most of us will find a way to hang on because we believe that this is more than a job, its a holy calling. And when the load is too hard to carry we, for the most part, just slip out the back door and try not to make too much of fuss in our departure. Your prayers, then, become life and light and hope and calm for us. They are food and water in a land where hunger and thirst are common. They lift us up, and they lift you up as well. Just knowing they are there can be a cool wind on a torrid day.
Tonight, out there somewhere, is a Pastor sitting by themselves wondering if it’s all worth it. They thought this was what God wanted them to do but now they’re not quite sure. They’re torn up inside between stark choices and what they’re seeking is just a little peace, a little light, and a little hope. The world outside the church seems like a shelter and the walls of the church like a nightmare. Where will you be in all of this? Answer that question correctly and it can make all the difference.