Most of us have contemplated quitting something. Sometime our reasons are perfectly valid, but not always. I’ve been thinking about this topic, quitting, after my latest fall while hiking (read about it here: Overdoing It).
I confess that while picking myself up, rinsing off the blood, and brushing all the dirt off my clothing I thought that maybe I should give up trails…running and hiking them. Once we started walking again I voiced this defeatist idea to Scott, who responded, “but one of your falls wasn’t on a trail.” Oh yeah. This is a perfect example of why we need to share our thoughts with others.
I’ve still been thinking about it though. Not because I want to give up trail running but because I wonder if maybe we are too quick sometimes to quit. We face difficulties in all areas of life: work, home, trying to eat healthy, relationships, societal, basically anywhere we want to improve on something we face difficulties. Or maybe a better way of looking at it is that positive change is hard.
Those of us born with a stubborn gene (I’m sure there is one) are probably at a bit of an advantage here, because we don’t like to admit defeat. But still there are times when we’ve contemplated giving up on something.
While I have many stories of persevering, and stubbornly holding on when I shouldn’t, I’ll just share two for you. One when I quit and one when I didn’t. They’re both related to my Call as a pastor.
First, I wasn’t raised in a church. And as a teenage and young adult I didn’t like Christians. (This is a long story that I’ve shared in my church, and maybe will share in a blog post some day). Anyway, when I was in my late 20s-early 30s I sent my children to a Lutheran preschool and that was the beginning of my slow, slow, slow immersion into the Lutheran church. This mostly happened because I met Lutheran Christians who were very different than the stereotype that I had of Christians.
Eventually I became more involved, participated in Bible studies, participated in ministry training programs, and began to feel a call to serve in some greater way. At the time I was a member (and now staff member) of a Lutheran church in a denomination that does not recognize God’s call on women leaders. I went to seminary (Fuller in Pasadena) “because I wanted to learn more.” While there I began more and more to discover that God was leading me to something far different than I had ever imagined. Unfortunately I was in a church that said, “no you are wrong to think that God would call you in this way.”
Some in this denomination told me “if you don’t like it then leave.” Yeah, saying that to a stubborn person usually insures they’ll stay! Others wanted me to stay and work for change. But I eventually came to the conclusion that God did not call me to “bang my head against the wall” trying to change something, when in reality I had no voice. This denomination needs men to step up!
So I quit. Not because it was hard but because I recognized that I needed to be elsewhere. Maybe it’s the seeing another path that is a good sign for those times we do need to quit whatever it is we are struggling to accomplish.
Fast forward many years… I am now a pastor in a different Lutheran Church (ELCA) and have served for a little over seven years at my congregation in Oxnard CA. I honestly can’t say that I’ve been an awesome pastor, but maybe I can say I’ve been a human pastor. Maybe that’s all we can expect.
It’s interesting to become a pastor at a time the church (not just my congregation) is declining. There are all sorts of reasons for this and many have ideas of what we should be doing…I could go to conferences on this probably every month.
I often say (and believe) that the church will always exist, but not as we know it today. Yet I don’t know what that future church will look like. Some leader!
So, it’s hard.
I never, before becoming a pastor, thought I’d be addressing massacres and racism and terrorism. Naive on my part! I still remember my hands shaking as I got up to preach on the Sunday after Sandy Hook…then again and again.
I’ve tried mightily to explain why Black Lives Matter as a movement is so important…and that I know Black Lives Matter to God.
I helped lead us to become a congregation that welcomes and affirms our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We are a safe place in this regard.
Then last November’s election happened and I had to question my call. Every day I had to start the day with remembering my gratitude, because what I really wanted to do was to quit trying. I grieved…not so much for myself but for my brothers and sisters who are not white cisgendered middle (or upper) class Americans. I could not understand how those who follow Jesus could support someone who was so hateful towards others.
For most of November I wondered if I really did have a call. I talked. I ran. I prayed. I ran. I read. I prayed. And I ran some more. And I came to the conclusion that I do have a call. To use my voice (even in a small church) to speak of God’s love for the oppressed, the marginalized, the immigrant, the orphan, the widow, the poor.
It’s been hard.
I’ve been reading more about racism lately. I’ll share some discoveries later. After Charlottesville I believe that it is even more important. I also believe that it is not the responsibility of my African American sisters and brothers to convince me (and those like me and in my church) that change is needed. I believe that this is a call from God, not just to me, but to the church. I’ve said this to my congregation. Will we respond to this call? I hope so.
Do I fully know what to do? No. But in every hard thing that I’ve done, I’ve not known fully what to do. I can even think of instance where if I’d known, I may not have started. So I’m ok with discerning with others the next steps. The lives of people who God loves depend on this. The church depends on it as well even if her members don’t realize it.
It’s hard…but I’m not quitting.
And…I’ll keep trail running too, hopefully I’ll be better at picking up my feet.