Think. Think more. Overthink. Change mind. Think again.
What do you do when you find yourself in this sort of cranial pattern? I sometimes slip into “busy mind” when I’m puzzling over a work-related situation. My job as a member of a synod staff is primarily centered in the support of church leaders and congregations. Sometimes churches end up in conflict and seek assistance sorting it through; other times, a staff has trouble working together and requests some extra support in building bridges.
Accompanying faith communities through these types of dynamics is meaningful. That being said, I have a tendency to overthink and overprepare.
A colleague in Chicago named Robert gave me some wise words a few months back over the phone, and they have been guidance I return to when I notice myself overthinking. The purpose of our conversation was to brainstorm together about how best to support congregations that were feeling lost and seeking a sense of purpose and direction. I was sharing a big list of ideas of how to most effectively work with a specific congregation.
Then I paused, feeling like even with all the ideas, I’d hit a dead end.
Robert spoke with a voice of encouragement, "Emily, keep spending time in God’s word. Then you can help congregations to see themselves in the story of God’s work in the world. Stay in the Word.”
He recognized that I was getting stuck in my own head, wanting to identify the perfect solution for every family of faith. But a more helpful approach would be to stay spiritually grounded myself and refrain from trying to fix things. Instead, my intention could be to nurture congregational environments where members could use the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to tap into their own insights.
Since that phone call, whenever I have the opportunity to collaborate with a congregation or church council, we usually start with a practice called “Listening to God Together.” We follow the good guidance from Robert, and we dig into the Word.
Variations of this practice are called "Dwelling in the Word" and "Lectio Divina." A short Scripture passage is read aloud by a participant. Everyone responds to the prompt: “What did you notice?” The same passage is read a second time. Everyone responds to the prompt: “What might God be speaking to you/to us through this passage today?”
The goal of the 15-to-30-minute experience is to create a hospitable environment for everyone to read the Bible together and explore its possible implications for whatever opportunity is being faced.
Beginning a congregational gathering with time in God’s word is like an anchor grounding the group in a reminder that the Holy Spirit is near and is moving. When I am tempted to overthink and fix, I try to gently release those very natural human tendencies and shift direction. I’m learning to instead focus on building spaces where all participants have a voice and access to God’s word and divine insights.
Wisdom is always available, and there are practices that can help us tap into it. Rather than getting stuck in fruitless overthinking, explore techniques that encourage and empower.
"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website emilyannecarson.com.