As the pandemic was starting to move into full swing here on the east coast I was in the hospital. The pump which has been delivering chemotherapy directly to my liver was apparently harming my liver. I found myself battling liver failure. I am grateful my doctors got that figured out and my liver numbers have just about returned to within normal range.
When I arrived home from the hospital, we were just beginning to question what the appropriate response to the corona virus was going to be. A week later we started using language like “social distancing.” Before you knew it, we were under stay at home orders and everyone was living a new normal.
Quiet / Active Engagement
As a pastor my life is a mixture of time spent in quiet and intense engagement with people. I have learned how to balance the two. I need time spent with people. A day where I move from appointment to appointment is normal. Listening to people share of their life and helping them see God in the midst of it brings me great joy. I also recognize the need for me to get away and be still and quiet. My times of retreat and quiet study are important. Without them I have little to offer people when we are together.
The first few weeks of the stay at home orders were extremely hard for me. I was not feeling well, and I could not do those things which give my life meaning and purpose. I was cancelling event after event of what had been promising times of learning and engagement with people I care deeply for. Not meeting for worship on Sunday morning felt very strange. Recording my sermon on Thursday or Friday from the comfort of my study stranger still. The strangest of all was getting up on Sunday morning and slowly making my way through the day.
The Jesuit Center reached out to let me know that they were closed and that the retreat I had planned to lead a few weekends ago was cancelled. A few days later they sent word that my personal retreat was not going to happen. I was mourning all that was not to be.
As I began each new day I found myself reflecting on all the things I could not do. Part of me was frozen. How can you plan for anything when the future is uncertain? My normal pattern, or way of doing was disrupted and it was really messing with how I looked at and viewed just about every aspect of my world.
Themes & Threads
Slowly I began to recognize themes and threads from lessons I had considered learned long ago. Apparently, I needed a refresher course, and this pandemic provided the perfect backdrop to help me hear again the difference between being and doing.
One morning I sat in my study reflecting on how my lack of doing was affecting me. No matter how hard I have tried to avoid this I will slip into understanding my value in relation to what I do. When I struggle to do well, or when I am not allowed to do my job…well then my sense of value or self-worth falters. So much of our lives is tied into what we do.
Sitting in my study I was struck by the truth that God’s love, care, acceptance, pursuit of me had not changed one iota since I had been quarantined in my home, unable to do my job as before. The doing, while important, was not what God was most interested in. Abba Father was concerned with my being.
I spent some time in quiet worship. I thanked God the grace extended by continuing to care for me even when my pattern of doing was shifting and changing.
Adapting & Adopting
Over the last few weeks, I have slowly adopted new patterns of doing. Sermons recorded from home are easier and actually somewhat enjoyable. I am not particularly fond of the phone, yet I have started calling those people I would have normally sat down with for a cup of coffee. I attend an AA meeting via Zoom. Just today our local pastors group gathered via Zoom to touch base and see how each other are doing during this season. I am finding new ways to do the work of ministry…all the while remembering that my being is most important.
Times of disruption are ripe with opportunities to learn and grow. God used the disruption to take me back to a lesson I have heard before and will probably need to hear again. As you travel this season, I pray you can learn the lessons God has for you.
Dan, I and I am sure many other pastors are shaking their heads in agreement with your words and your spiritual journey. I am in my eightieth year and I am still relearning lessons I thought I had learned. You are a gifted writer; sharing your journey with us is a gift, thank you.