Handing over what is not mine, or, Learning to let go

I was up worrying the other night.  It happens.  Worry is a spiritual gift I received from my mother, and I have worked hard to perfect that which was passed on to me.  I also work not to pass it on to my daughter, but I worry that I am failing in that.

Anyway, I was worrying the other night when what I really wanted to be doing was falling asleep.  It was the end of a long day, the house was quiet, all other living creatures under our roof were asleep, and there I was, worrying.  Someone once defined worry as “misuse of the imagination.”  Yes, it is.  Finally my desire to sleep won over my need to worry, and I decided to hand it all over to Jesus.

Now I really don’t consider myself that kind of Jesus person.  I usually don’t hand it over to the Lord, nor do I think that he walks with me or talks with me in the “In the Garden” sort of way.  My prayers tend to be to God, not to Jesus.  I mean, I’m good with him, but I do like to keep my distance.  But that night I decided I really needed to hand it all over to him.  So I pictured what I was handing over, and it was a spherical-shaped thing, a tangle of worries that might best be represented by barbed wire, lima beans, the insoles of my daughter’s summer Keens, and all those random electronic cables you stick in a drawer because you have no idea what they’re for.  Roll all that up into a ball, and those were the worries I wanted to hand over to Jesus.  Lucky him.

So I did.  In my mind’s eye I pictured handing him this messy, sharp bundle, and I pictured him taking it.  And then a funny thing happened.  As soon as he took it, it turned into a beach ball- one of those big plastic, colors-in-pennant-shapes beach balls.  It was like he was taking all my worries so very lightly, like he was saying, “Hey, I know there’s stuff that’s getting you down but I think we should go play on the beach.”

What the hell, Jesus?

Okay, not really.

But somehow, it worked.  He took my ball of lima beans and barbed wire and turned it into a beach ball and I fell asleep.  Not only that, but that night I dreamed I was about to marry George Clooney.  (I did confess that to my husband the next day and assured him that George Clooney was no match for him.)

The next day I had coffee with a friend who is a 12-stepper.  I am remarkably proud of her, and often inspired by the rigorous and truthful way she looks at her own living.  We talked about whatever step it is where you let go and let God, and she talked about the deep meaning the serenity prayer has for her.  While I listened, I was having my own internal conversation about letting go and the whole Jesus-turned-my-worry-into-a-beach-ball thing.  Here’s where I ended up.

Sometimes, in order to sleep, in order to get the rest our bodies, minds, and souls need, we have to let it go.  (Apologies for cueing that particular song.)  It’s not always ours to keep, the things we worry about.  But sometimes, after that rest, we take some of it back.  Some of it is mine to carry, or to deal with, or to wrestle with.  But maybe when I take it back, there are fewer lima beans and more grains of sand.

a-beach-ball-ron-dahlquist

A time to keep and a time to throw away

bubble wrapI have moved a lot, and by move, I mean pack up all my belongings and take them out of one dwelling and unpack them in another dwelling.  I, with or without my family, moved in 1966, 1968, 1972, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2011.  That’s a lot of cardboard and bubblewrap.

Each time I have moved as an adult, I have purged before and after the  move.  I am so happy for those who love garage sales, but I’m not one of you, so the Goodwill and Salvation Army have benefitted well from my peripatetic life.  Each time I have moved I have looked forward to the new thing and at the same time mourned all that is left behind.  During the crunch time of moving, I’ve have lived in two places at once, said hello while saying goodbye, closed things up and opened new things.

Serving as a pastor in a mainline church in the 21st century feels like being in the throes of moving.  I am in two worlds at once.  I am in the world for which I was trained in seminary, serving a church with the physical plant and administration of yesteryear.  I am in my old house, and while it does creak, I know which floorboards creak.  It is a comfortable place.  And God is calling me – and us – to move.

Not only do I feel completely unprepared to be a post-modern pastor of a church in the 21st century, I am living in two places at once.  I am still pastoring in 20th century mode, supporting our work done in the 20th century, leading worship in the style of the old way.  I am trying to learn about the new ways, too, and find it getting hard to be holding on to the old stuff while making room for the new stuff.  A good purge is needed.

photoWe once lived in a house that was taken by eminent domain and torn down.  The evening after the wrecking ball finished its work, I drove by the old place, saw the pile of rubble that had been the home we brought our baby daughter to, and sobbed.  Some folks had lined up across the street to watch the destruction, but I couldn’t do it.  It felt violent, somehow.  Now there’s a brand new fire station there, one that the city needed.  Intellectually it all makes sense.  Emotionally, it still hurts to look at pictures of the rubble that had been our home.

I’m not suggesting we tear the old church down with a wrecking ball.  My friend Christine Chakoian wrote a great piece called “Sifting Our Inheritance: What to Keep and What to Let Go” in churchleadership.com.  She rightly points out that we do keep some things.  But we also let some things go.

Do we let go of the organ?  If we did that at my congregation, that would getting rid of something that many of our folk consider a prime marker of our identity.  Do we get rid of committees?  I would love to, and I would love to think creatively about how we would get our work done.  I don’t think anyone would mind having one less meeting to go to, but there would be anxiety in the in-between time.  Do we let go of paid clergy?  Shouldn’t all of us pastor types be working ourselves out of a job?  That’s a terrifying thought.

When we made our last move, my husband, daughter and I loaded up our Honda Civic and spend four nights and five days driving from Wisconsin to Oregon.  It was a great transition time.  It was just the three of us and the clothes we needed for the trip and the things they wouldn’t take on the moving van.  We promised our daughter we would stay in motels that had pools so that she could go swimming every day.  We visited the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore.  We marveled at the open skies of the west.  We listened to the Wicked soundtrack, over and over and over again.  We were cocooned and in each other’s company with no distractions.  We needed that, after the hubbub of packing up and saying goodbye, and before the stress of starting anew and unpacking.

Maybe the church needs a cocooned, communal transition time, when we take with us only what we need for a short journey.  We could do a little sight seeing, and we could sing, and we could find ways to refresh each day. Because there is a new home that awaits with all its own quirks.  There will be boxes to unpack and recycle.  There will be grief over what is no longer, and joy at what is.

But I really don’t want to move again.

ADDENDUM: There are no physical moves or job changes in our near future!