When I was trying to make my way as a young (er) cleric with idealistic intentions, I did so within an institution that is inherently slow to change. Many parishioners were well integrated into what was and always has been. And consequently I was ‘corrected’ (often).
It was a time of learning in which I have come to appreciate that my idealistic intentions were secondary to creating safe space. And that change (or what I naively called progress) was less important than the change process.
I have had many moments of wanting to quit. Perhaps jump into a truck and drive long haul… or sign up for some foreign mission project. As naïve as that belief may have been, believing I could quit at any time, gave me the resiliency to manage moments of self-doubt and frustration.
I’m now into my 28th year of ministry. And there are still moments of wanting to quit. The church is in constant flux, creating pressures and anxieties that seem endless.
What has shifted though, is my need to get through it by falling back on some notion I can just move on. It served me well but I’ve realized I don’t have the same energy or taste for dramatic change.
Coming to terms with this realization is actually a bit scary. It was my lifeline. But the unpredictable, and often confrontational derivative of such an uncommitted style of ministry, contradicts my increasing need to be compassionately connected with my parishioners, my local community, and my colleagues. And doing so through thick and thin.
I have been slowly discovering the benefits of committing myself to staying the course and managing my doubts a little more sophisticatedly than simply thinking “well it’s time for me to walk away.”
My point in sharing this…there is wisdom in staying! And learning to stay may very well be one of the great gifts of getting older.
Science argues that a child’s brain accesses fear more easily then compassion. Provoking me to reflect that ‘staying’ and not running is an evolution in ones EQ (emotional intelligence). And that the wisdom in ‘staying’ is its space to enable compassion to thrive.
All great leaders knew how to stay. Jesus of Nazareth knew how to ‘stay’. A choice leading to suffering. And at the summit of that merciless anguish, and using his last breath, he resigned himself to his fate and prayed “father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He stayed the course and compassion reigned. The world has not been the same since.
The question of whether to stay the course presents itself in many situations. In my professional and personal experience we make the decision to hold fast when the cost of leaving outweighs the cost of staying.
‘Staying’ requires a whole different set of skills than the youthful ability to pack up and move on. It draws upon prayer, forgiveness, courageous commitment and the need to develop a support system.
Choosing to stay and not leave, is not always the best course of action (particularly in abusive situations) but we too often run. It’s often an immature belief that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
When we choose to stay, and work through whatever is in front of us, there is, as I see it, unfathomable peace of mind.