It's good to stop and reflect during times of transition. What has been learned through the experience? What new insights is God inspiring within you? What are your goals moving forward?
Your current transition might be an approaching retirement. Or it could be a child who is about to leave the nest. Maybe you're preparing for your final radiation treatment or you've just gone through a separation. There are significant markers throughout our lives. They are times in which God presents us with the chance to ponder how we've grown — and imagine where God is leading us next.
Today is my last official day as associate pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Stewartville. I mentioned in my column a couple weeks ago that I'll soon be taking a new pastoral call at the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Office in Rochester. My heart is full of gratitude for the last 4 ½ years. Compassionate, Gospel-centered church members. Amazing colleagues. It has been very good.
As I look back upon this life-changing chapter, so many learning moments come to mind. Here are the five most significant lessons I learned through my first call.
• It is more life-giving to build upon areas of strength than to fix perceived problems/weaknesses.Over the last several years, I spent too much time focusing on solving problems. While a problem-solving approach is not bad, it tends to be draining and difficult, and not always fruitful. When I started investing more of my pastoral energy into building upon the congregation's multitude of strengths, a deeper joy took root. Every workplace, every person, and every family has strengths. Sometimes we certainly have to deal with problems. But in general, we are much better off using our resources to build upon existing strengths.
• Listen and encourage.I sincerely thought I needed more of what I imagined to be pastor-style answers when I started out in ministry. But eventually I realized that God wasn't especially interested in my parroted words and prayers … the things I thought I should say or do as a clergy person. Instead, the Holy Spirit was inviting me to listen and encourage. All day. Every day. These two acts — listening and encouraging — reshape people, families, and cultures. The dynamics of workplaces, lunchrooms, and playgrounds shift. When people feel heard and valued, they shine.
• Let it go.I have to remember and re-polish and this little wisdom gem every single day. People say and do weird things (myself included). Sometimes they mean to be hurtful. Usually they don't. In my first call as a pastor, I wasn't always the best at letting things go. Sometimes I let hurtful words and actions fester. Whenever possible, just let it go. Refocus. Don't waste precious energy and heart-space.
• The Holy Spirit is living, breathing, and moving every second.It is astounding the way God is at work among all people and places. When I started out in the parish, I didn't realize how much I'd get to witness the activity of God's spirit! At funerals, weddings, lunches, Care Centers, hospitals, worship services, Sunday School, and staff meetings. The Holy Spirit is everywhere, and I'm learning to be on the lookout all the time.
• Every voice matters; every person matters.I have a tendency to focus the majority of my attention on people with the loudest voices and opinions. But I'm recognizing more all the time that every voice deserves attention! In church, at work, around the dinner table — we benefit from drawing our attention toward those voices that are quiet and humble. The most helpful perspectives I have heard over the years have often come from those who did not necessarily voice them the loudest.
I pray that whatever transition you're facing, you, too, are able to allot some time for reflection. Each new day provides fresh perspectives. And each new chapter of life provides guidance from God that will assist us in shaping the road ahead.
The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson, a Lutheran pastor in Stewartville. Visit her blog at: www.emilyannecarson.com.