I logged on to write today and saw that I haven’t written since July 31st. Time has flown by. I try to write once a week. The week after I wrote last time, I was on vacation with my wife’s family (my family too, as they insist I say) up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The two weeks after that, I was just trying to catch up. Between missing a week and taking on two classes to teach and doing pretty much all the preaching at our little church (going it alone is new for me)… I was treading water for a while.
I know you missed me. But I’m back now.
My son will be 11-months old (!) in a couple weeks. He is days away from walking around. He stands a lot now. He has attempted some steps. I don’t remember much about the stages of development even though I have done this three times now. But I do remember this part, where your child is very clearly about to jump to the next level of human growth. It’s fantastic and terrifying. It’s much easier for them to run away from you and shove pieces of metal into electrical sockets for the adrenaline rush of it all when they evolve in their mobility.
Development is weird. It feels like it should be linear and even. This and then this and then this. But growth doesn’t work like that with babies. There’s a trend. There’s a path. But it seems like there are times with then they are growing at exponential rates and other times when it feels like you may be changing their diapers when they are 12. It’s one of the most frustrating parts of being a parent for me. I feel like the growth should be perfectly predictable.
Of course, this is one of the most frustrating things about being an adult “me” as well. I feel as though I should have a checklist that I am logically moving through, progressing towards the Blessed State. When I reach that destination I will be… god-like? Maybe merely competent? I don’t know. I don’t know because at this point I feel about as turned around and frustratingly slow as my tiny son. He actually may be better at being a human than I am at this point and I’ve been practicing for a lot longer.
I feel this halting growth most distinctly in my vocation. I hedged towards the pastorate with all the confidence of a man walking a very narrow ridge trail in very dense fog. I had no idea what was ahead of me. No idea what was just beyond that. I just took the step that was at my feet. And I still feel like I proceed that way for much of the time. I stick my hands out sometimes and hope that I’m proceeding on the trail. Other times, I feel like the wind blows and I catch a glimpse down trail and I walk forward more confidently. But the fog inevitably moves back in and I am creeping along. This is what I feel like all the time. “How are things going,” they ask me.
“Uh………” (trails off for two minutes hoping something happens right in front of us that distracts us)
To be honest, it feels like I’m making it up as I go along. I have a very vague sense of what I should be doing. I have pictures of my mind that I think are the goal. But how we’re getting there? (see: foggy trail analogy) This makes it very hard to answer how I am doing, how we’re doing. I am a very big believer in saying, “I don’t know.” I feel like I say that a lot. Sometimes it makes me angry when I say it. Sometimes it makes me sad. Sometimes I’m incredibly relieved. But I still say it a lot.
I have compass points. I have fixed elements that I know I need to gauge myself by. I move towards them as best I can. But compass points don’t always tell you what to do with this obstacle or that. So I stop. I think. I pray (probably not enough). I read what other people think. I think about those pictures in my head of the place that we’re supposed to go. Then I shrug my shoulders and go for it.
This is me. I’m the pastor. I provide leadership to Isight Church this way.
Fortunately, Presbyterian churches aren’t led by one person. Right now, there’s at least two other people that spot blind spots and poke and prod me and tell me when things really aren’t ok. That’s tremendously comforting. Actually, I do not understand how people do this without a team. I’m just not cut out to be the CEO guy. And I don’t have to do that. My teammates make the trail less scary. But really, we’re kind of making it up as we go along.Together. It is both comforting and terrifying.
You know what I have found, though? I think most people feel this way, whether they are pastors or not. I think people are not altogether clear on what they’re doing at any given moment. Many of us grew up with some idea in our heads about what we wanted to be or do. Most of us don’t do those things. Or we do, but differently than we ever imagined. And all of us in relationships, marriage or friendship, often feel as if we’re improvising.
I’d like to suggest that this is meant to be the normal human experience. We are primed for it from the moment we begin figuring out that rolling can turn into crawling which can turn into tottering along. We are primed for uneven and frustrating, slow growth. This is just the way of things. High school students and many college students stroll around absolutely sure that they know what they’re doing with their life. But seniors in college suddenly are clued in to what the rest of us already know:
“Oh my word. What am I doing?!”
And so begins the creep down the foggy trail.
It is an essential part of being human. We were meant to need teammates. You can be the most introverted of introverts (and I will push you for that title), but you need other people. You can be an expert, but you do not know how to navigate all of life’s obstacles alone. You can have the clearest of destinations in mind, but elements beyond your control will obscure your view. And you will need to learn to trust.
I think God made us for improvisational stewardship of the world. We’re figuring things out like little kids. We have the power and ability to make real changes in the world. But we were always meant to do it with one eye up towards our Father, smirking at the danger of it all, knowing that his arms are right there to either side. I think expertise for adults following Jesus in the world is a growing awareness that we really are more like kids than we think we are. Jesus probably wasn’t trying to just say, “Have faith like children” when he was pointing towards the kids he couldn’t resist. I think he meant trusting dependence and an intoxicating mixture of an awareness of our limitations, desire for more, and trust in the Father.
I will never be the kind of pastor that gives you 3 Biblical Steps for Financial Security or whatever. There aren’t easy steps, I don’t think. I’ll never be able to hand out a formula. I think we’re meant to feel a bit confused, a bit lost, a bit unsure. But we’re also supposed to be exhilarated. We’re supposed to embrace those foggy ridge-lines that we attack together. We’re supposed risk a little and trust a lot.
It’s hard to accept for me. I’m sure it’s hard to except for you too. You’re not alone. You’re doing just fine. We’ll make it.
Trust me. I’m a pastor.