At the end of week before last, I didn’t so much fall off the face of the earth as fall back into my life. Only now does it feel like I am finally coming up at least for a gulp of air. I came back to the US sick–another bout of bronchitis that I’ve had a hard time shaking. I have also been far more affected by jet lag than I ever remember. At about 5:30 or 6 each evening, until this week, I simply could not stay awake. But on the other end, getting up early has been bitterly hard as well. Weird!
There was much about my trip that was absolutely marvelous. There was also far more ambiguity and ambivalence both in the going and in the returning. I think that was clear in my postings while I was in Sweden. Now that I am back, along with being swamped in work and trying to get better, I am faced with a whole lot of questions that will take time to answer. Sherod’s announcement of his retirement has so many implications. The space for making decisions is smaller. The margin of error is tighter–after all, the last major move we made was in 1996, when I was 36 years old. Making a wrong career move at 36, I could recover just fine, thank you very much. Now 53, and especially in this economy and with the current state of the church? Not so much.
Perhaps what is most important and different now, is my own outlook, my own sense of myself. My mother dying, Sherod and I accepting that it was time to place Maria in BARC, her long-term residential program, represented losses I had no real control over. Death comes. Our children grow, their needs change, we start letting go of them the minute they announce themselves in our lives. But those losses changed me, they cut me loose, they helped to distill, to really start focusing and crystallizing what matters now, how I want to make the time I have left, count. One of the hardest parts of all this process of discovery is that I am now at the point not so much of making my peace with what is lost because life happens, as trying to gather the courage to let go of what no longer works for living the life I have received.
I realize this all sounds vague and murky. I am still in the very earliest days of putting words around this new place I find myself in. For now, here’s one thing ‘ve figured out: I have to let go of wanting to have it both ways. Specifically, that gets played out in a desire to both be liked and still be true to myself. Recognizing the danger of trying to have it both ways is some of the most basic “clergy well-being 101” kind of stuff imaginable. You start hearing it almost from day one in seminary. We cannot be true to our vocation and the Gospel if all we do is try to please others. It is also basic to any emotional health and maturity. But the ability of this internal pushme-pullyou to hide way out of sight is insidious and confounding and right now, I am quite horrified to uncover the extent to which that dynamic has been at play in all kinds of aspects of my life.
Re-calibrating the balance without over-reacting, sorting through what and what relationships matter for the long haul, being willing to take a whole new set of risks takes a lot of energy. I have returned from my trip aware that I need to clarify my role in our regional ministry in ways that I wish weren’t necessary. The spouseman and I are going to have to renegotiate the terms of our relationship now that he is headed to retirement and I have a good 12-15 years of work I have the energy and desire to do. The list goes on.
To willingly let go. To allow myself a form of free-fall that happens quite slowly and takes me to a place I cannot even begin to imagine right now, rather than hold on to the safety of what I know, that’s my work right now.