Some words are sticky and it takes a while to get them unstuck.
A few months back, I was in a local fashion show. I was feeling fancy in a red and white Nordic sweater as I mingled backstage before everything got started. Folks were trading business cards and details about their workplaces and vocations.
"What do you do?" one man asked.
"I'm a Lutheran pastor."
Then he said, "I don't like women being pastors. It makes me feel weird. I don't like a woman preaching to me."
I've been a pastor for seven years, and I've heard this sort of sentiment now and then along the way. Generally, I don't get worked up about it. I attempt to avoid internalizing other people's opinions, and then remind myself that everyone is on their own journey.
But that night, the words were especially sticky. It felt personal and unexpected. Backstage at a community event wasn't a context in which I was prepared to defend women's ordination. I'm sure sticks and stones would've hurt more, but the words certainly left a sore spot.
Then it was time for the show. The evening proceeded. It was fun.
But when it was time to go to sleep that evening, the words were still running through my mind. That one individual's opinion seemed like a symptom of a larger global sickness related to misogyny, hierarchy and oppression in the church.
Over the last couple months, the man's words bubbled up at different moments. I tried to glue encouraging affirmations in my mind to replace his sticky, uninvited opinion. But no matter what techniques I attempted, the judgment was still there in the background.
Then, a couple Sundays back, I spent the morning with a congregation in Lime Springs, Iowa. The service began with a litany called Thanksgiving for Baptism. The congregation had a practice of inviting children to be helpers and worship leaders. The Sunday I was there, a young girl who looked to be about 5 years old helped with the Thanksgiving for Baptism. She came forward, climbed up a short step stool, and poured a basin of water into the baptismal font.
My role was to proclaim God's words of love while she poured the water, but when I looked over at her, my words got caught in my throat. Tears filled my eyes.
She poured the water with confidence. She stood on the top step of that footstool with the certainty that she was a leader … that she mattered … that she was valuable. I paused, took a deep breath, and continued with the liturgy.
After I finished my part, I looked back over at the baptismal font. The young helper finished pouring the water. She set the basin down and returned to her seat with her family.
I felt more hope than I had for a long while.
Something shifted in me during that morning. A weight had been lifted. The words spoken to me before the fashion show had been washed away. A 5-year-old worship leader's confident presence reminded me of my own sense of call, and I felt unapologetic and grateful.
May you, too, experience waters of grace. May the painful sticky words of the past be washed away. May you be reminded that in whatever setting you spend your days, you are a leader … you matter … and you are valuable. Glue those truths to your heart.