Longing for Stability

There’s a longing in my heart.

It’s a longing I can’t, won’t let go of,
that won’t let go of me.
I long for a place and time
For a time in my life
And the way of being
that brought healing and wholeness.

In recent days I’ve come to terms
with the fact that I am tired
in need of food
in need of rest
in need of renewal
in need of compassion and care

In recent days I’ve come to terms
with the fact that
I’m not sure

I’m not sure where courage
will come from
I’m not sure where energy
will come from
Or what next wave will
carry me forward into
the surf.

I am longing for sabbath,
for the time and space
that might allow
me to dwell in the healing
stability of God’s love.

There’s this funny thing that happens
when you work for a church.

There’s this funny thing that happens
when people assume
you spend your days
absorbed in books
and deep introspection
contemplating the mysteries of faith
and nurturing your soul.

There’s this funny thing that happens
when people are unaware
that the vast majority of your day
looks like spreadsheets
and grant applications
and an endless stream of emails
with no hope of
inbox zero.

There’s this funny thing that happens
when your so-called sacred work environment
can be as fraught and frantic
as those of your friends
as those of your community
in their so-called secular work environment
and when you don’t carve out for yourself
the time you need
the space you need
to maintain your humanity
in the midst of life’s demands.

I can remember the epiphany
a number of years ago
working for another Christian organisation,
the sudden burst of insight
that confronted me with the truth
that I could no longer work there
and be a decent partner, parent, let alone human.

Three months later I left.

Eugene Peterson
author of The Message
and another book I want to read
called The Pastor
recently tweeted:

“If succeeding as a pastor
means failing as a parent,
you’ve already failed as a pastor.”

And I’ve been chewing on this lately.
I’ve been thinking about how isolating
it can be to work in a church
even if you are not the pastor
though perhaps you are perceived
to be “the priest who’s not a priest,”
or whatever the latest version of that
might be.

I think it’s probably
the single most compelling reason
not to be ordained.
The way the structure is set up
The way peoples’ perceptions and behaviours
reinforce isolation
reinforce distance
between leader and led
between pastor (or pastoral stand-in)
and congregation

But it’s not just them
It’s me. It’s us too. Peterson, in a
five year old interview shares:

I was ignoring the people closest to me
because I had a job to do.
I had a church to develop and make successful.
My work shut down a huge area of personal relationships.
That’s one of the besetting sins of church workers.

This sin is not just personal or individual
It is systemic and pervasive
Across denominational and theological lines
This is a sin of a church-become-institution
that knows not how to honour the sabbath
and to keep it holy.

Peterson continues:

It’s astonishing to me
that the people who break the Sabbath
the most frequently are pastors.
It’s because they’re too busy and important.

You have to have the support
of your senior pastor
or others on the church staff
to take a Sabbath.
You can’t do it by yourself.

You can’t do it by yourself.
You need support from other staff, surely,
but also the community of which
you are an integrated and integral part.

I can’t do it by myself,
without members of my community
who will call me to account
when I have failed
to honour the sabbath.

And when, in so-doing
I have failed to honour
the God who offers sabbath
as gift.

And when, in so-doing
I have failed to honour
other members of the community
in which God has placed me
when I have failed to pursue right relationship
with God
with God’s people, and
with the world God loves.

And the longing,
as far as I can tell,
is for such stability.

I long to rest in the stability of God’s love
expressed in
the intimacy of prayer
immersion in holy scripture, and
the deep mutual relationships
of a loving community
where I am truly known.

This is a longing I can’t, won’t let go of.
Because I know the healing of such community
even though it seems a distant memory.

But it need not be so.

I need not hold myself apart,
knowing that wholeness
will not come of my own accord,
but in the gentle ebb and flow
that comes from accepting

– as Esther deWaal suggests –

this particular community,
this place
and these people,
this and no other,
as the way to God.

And so it starts with these words.
This intention.

To reject
frantic busy-ness,
distance,
disconnection,
and individualism.

and

To pursue stability,
intimacy,
immersion,
and mutuality.

From this day forward.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

Andrew serves on staff at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC as Director of Ministry Innovation, with primary responsibility for St. Brigids, an emerging Christian community where questions are honoured, faith is nurtured, and discipleship pursued.
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