To trust and be ready



I am an impatient person.  And it turns out healing takes time. 
So do things like gestation.  And discernment.  And transformation.  
Three weeks ago I had surgery on my foot.  A bone spur shaved down, arthritis cleaned out, stitches and a bandage, two weeks in a Velcro shoe and lots of limping.  I was a picture-perfect patient the first week, less so the second.  I wanted it to be all-better a week ago.  I’m realizing it may be a couple of months. 
I am restless and irritable with impatience.

Our little church is in a weird time. 
Moving highs and baffling lows.  Dropping numbers and flagging energy, right alongside amazing connections, flashes of rich and glorious life and glimmers of potential, though we maybe give more attention to the fearful things.  

Last week I was expressing frustration and concern to a friend who teaches at a seminary in another state.  She was on lunch break from conference with clergy, and when I finished talking she told me that just an hour before she had asked the question, “What in the church today is giving you hope?” And someone answered, of all things, "Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church.”  
Having been with us for years before moving away, she smiled, and said to them, “I know that church!” And then she'd told them what she thought had characterized us: we lived out of a spirit of abundance instead of a mindset of scarcity. 
Hearing her say this felt like being plunged into a warm bath.  Right…abundance. God's abundance. I had momentarily forgotten. I’d let the low-grade fever of anxiety lingering among us infect me with the mindset of scarcity, and I was maybe even contagious, infecting others.

Nearly a year ago I returned from my three month sabbatical – and while I was away the congregation lived very thoughtfully into sabbatical themselves, pondering what made them tick and how God meets us, as they did the work of the church together without their pastor.  
But since I’ve been back, it’s been a strange year, a strained year, a year of fatigue and flailing.  Our old committee structures have ceased to function, and we haven’t figured out what structure will work best to facilitate the unpredictable life and ministry that is ebbing and flowing within us, bubbling up some places, draining dry others. 

It’s as though the sabbatical broke us – that three months of functioning radically differently accidentally upset things just enough that we can’t seem to regain equilibrium.  The last edifice of effectiveness as the 90-something year old, mainline, relatively stable, reliably institutional, obligation-driven, well-oiled machine we’d always been is collapsing, and we’re yet to figure out what we are now or will be. We’re watching the endowment fund trickle away, and we keep asking God and each other what’s next and getting tiny, teeny answers, instead of a great big comforting picture.
Here’s how broken down it feels: We don’t even have a clerk of session. 
(If you’re Presbyterian you'll know what this means).
In a congregation with nearly a century old tradition of people stepping up and doing things for the greater good, sacrificing themselves to roles they couldn’t escape without quitting the whole church, not a single person has answered the call to be clerk of session in over three months of asking.  And they’re saying no to other things too!  And in a funny way, I’m proud of them.  Everyone is contributing, and nobody is taking on something they don’t feel called to.  It’s very healthy of them, actually.  But let’s be honest, it’s hard to run an effective, mainline, relatively stable, reliably institutional, obligation-driven, well-oiled machine without the people willing to be taken advantage of, willing to do the work out of duty instead of joy, willing to answer to compulsion instead of calling.

But to switch metaphors suddenly, today a very wise person among us cheerfully named it for me when she said, grinning at me in a way I can only describe as "cheekily," 
“Sabbatical dumped us out of the boat!” 
And so it did.  
We’re in the water now. 
Flailing and floating, trusting and forgetting, bobbing along and wondering what it all means. 
Sometimes it’s restful and floaty, with views of the stars and a sense of God’s great glory.  Occasionally it’s fun and splashy.  But it’s also sometimes scary and overwhelming, and we’re exhausted from treading water and keeping our heads up.  Most of all it’s irritating and frustrating, and we just keep grasping toward the boat, bewildered and wishing we could figure out how to climb back in. 

But if we’re learning anything on our journey through scripture these days, it’s that the water changes us – gives us new identity and all that.  And if we’re really being honest, the truth is, the boat was crumbling and leaking, kind of sinking even, and any security it gave us was a short-lived illusion.

So here’s the hard and good news I am telling to myself and my courageous, creative, faithful congregation: This is God’s church, people, not mine, not ours; it doesn’t belong to those who went before or even to those yet to come.  It’s not ours to preserve or protect.  It’s God’s.  
Always and securely, we are God’s.
And the boat is gone. We are in the water, it's true.  
And God is up to something, that's true too.  The Holy Spirit is for sure messing with us.  And these kinds of things – discernment, healing, transformation and all that good stuff - they take time. 

So as I limp tenderly through my days, breathing for patience as my foot heals and gets stronger, I am hopeful.
And I am praying that I can be patient and attentive and brave.  I want to accompany these amazing people with vulnerability and courage.  I want to remember God's abundance and be filled with wonder, and I want to trust and be ready.


Here we are God!  What are you going to do with us?

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