I’ve been an elder at our church for over six months now and at times, I feel like I did when the nurses left the room and didn’t take my newborn with them. What? Why are you leaving me with this creature? I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not capable. I’m going to mess this up. Training as a teacher didn’t really prepare me to be a mother, because teachers aren’t the ultimate guardian of the students in their care. As a teacher, there is emotional separation that provides space to breathe, to exist beyond that aspect of who you are. There is no planning period as a mother, no substitute teacher, and no principal to back you. Likewise, though I’m capable of differentiating instruction, coming up with lessons in less than 15 minutes, and teaching babies to adults, I’m not skilled in working as part of a team. I’m not trained in sharing space, jobs, loads, duties. Teachers are typically workhorses who do it all alone. I suspect this is also why supposedly standing meetings last 30 minutes instead of 10 fairly regularly for teachers. We might be efficient in our own spaces, but we’re really not coordinated in those we share. Similarly, we’re used to deciding what happens in our classrooms. Sure, there is curriculum and such that we are usually required to mostly adhere to, but we’re not often spending time deciding with another what things deserve to be said and changed. There is a learning curve to planning with others and it isn’t necessarily natural either. Our society is individualistic, therefore working together can feel like enough of a job in itself, not including the actual jobs we’re trying to complete together for our congregation. I definitely wasn’t prepared for the pain of hurting other people. When you disagree with another person, it hurts them. It leaves them feeling rejected, alone, betrayed, confused, abandoned. Before becoming an elder, I could choose when to speak and when not to, avoiding contention if I could. Now, though it’s true that I still have the option to remain silent, there is just as much weight in my silence as there is in my words. My words, whether spoken or absent, reflect more than just myself and I can no longer leave decisions to other people to work out. I am now one of those deciding voices and people are impacted by my answers. Many things in life are not binary, but votes are either against or for, despite the fact that most situations are not just black or white, but somewhere in between in the uncomfortable gray where everyone is both right and wrong in one way or another. Yes, I could abstain, but if every person with a vote abstained, progress is stalled. As a person deeply influenced by the disappointment others have in me and as a child raised in a church where there was always just one right answer, this new role I’ve been tasked with leaves me constantly fighting my natural tendency to find my worth in extrinsic sources while simultaneously traversing an unstable balance beam, braced in the gelatin floor that is trying to do the right thing. Having previously only read Paul’s words from the perspective of a girl growing into a woman in a fundamentalist church, I was understandably not able to see what I see now. Paul was exhausted and I wonder if he ever felt like God sent Jesus, took Jesus away, and in doing so was the nurse, leaving the terrified mother to care for this new being, this new baby church that she is so afraid she’ll somehow break. I have the benefit of centuries of work done by those who came before me, but who did Paul have? How did he maintain friendships while holding fast to what he believed Jesus had asked of him but not becoming legalistic in the process? How did he speak against those who were supporting him when he recognized their behaviors needed alteration, risking his precarious security by doing so? How did he move forward after he and Barnabas stopped working together? I read some of Paul’s words and I suspect he wrote some of those words as much to encourage himself as to spur others. When the nurse shuts the door and it’s just you holding that little new life, you tell yourself, “I’ve got this. I’m fine. I’m ok. We’re ok.” You say it over and over and over again, even if it isn’t true, because you have to believe you are to pick that baby up and not be frozen in your doubt. Paul was tired and scared and worried and lonely, following a new life, going against his previous norms and he wrote letter after letter to other churches, but to anyone who writes, you know you’re writing to yourself too, because writing it makes it real. When Paul tells Timothy he had finished the race, I think he was really telling himself that he was capable, strong, and prepared for what was coming. He was holding his baby church, now in the hands of Timothy as Paul himself was in prison, and telling it, “We’re fine. We’re ok.”, and desperately hoping that writing it would make it true. Not only do I now see that Paul was unbelievably fatigued, I see that he loved his church and he tried. In some ways, that might be the core of our shared faith—-love people and try. Since neither of those things are inherently easy, it is further evidence of that faith. It’s not logical to keep loving, nor is it practical to keep trying. Being a Christian doesn’t make sense, at least to me it doesn’t, but faith isn’t about sense. Faith is what helps us say we’re ok when we’re not and trust in what we can’t see. It’s also what frees us to be honest and not tell that quintessential lie that society expects in polite company. Faith is what assures us that our trying isn’t really what matters at all and why Paul could write what he did and know it was true, even if he didn’t always believe it with every ounce of his being.
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