In Presbyterian Church U.S.A. vocabulary the phrase “if the way be clear” is used to acknowledge though we plan, dream, and hope, sometimes the way forward is not what we imagined. I was thinking of this phrase yesterday afternoon while I drove my family home through a massive thunderstorm complete with a tornado warning. We arrived home safely thanks in part to smartphones, internet access, and my husband’s use of those tools to give me guidance about when to get off on an exit to wait out a portion of the storm.
Yesterday I could not see more than a few feet in front of me, I had to trust my knowledge of the road, the tools I had at hand, and the rules of the road. I could see the yellow dotted line on my left, and the white solid line on my right, that was about all. I knew stopping would likely result in a crash. I knew going forward meant I had to trust what I could not control. I am not the first person, or pastor, to find the act of driving to be a powerful metaphor for life.
I am thinking about that drive home because I feel stuck in the storm. About two years ago I reached my tenth anniversary of ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I was elated to reach this milestone and thrilled to be celebrating it with the congregation I had been partnered with for those ten years. It is not all that common for fresh out of seminary (first-call) pastors to stay with their first congregation that long. We celebrated and looked forward to the future.
In the two years since that milestone a fair number of difficult experiences have taken place, making me feel stuck in a storm and surrounded by fog. Each one has taught me a new lesson and helped grow the Fruits of the Spirit in me, but they have left me feeling as if I cannot see more than a step in front of me. I have the yellow dotted line of my faith, the white solid line of my partnership in ministry with colleagues and the congregation, the tools or spiritual practices of my faith tradition, and my trust that God is in control. So I keep putting one foot in front of the other confident one day the storm will cease and the fog will lift. But as driving in a storm sometimes requires a chance to rest, so does life as a pastor.
Our polity as members of the PCUSA states the elected elders serving on the session (governing board) and pastor are partners in ministry. The congregation takes a vow to support and care for the pastor and family, and the session vows to help lead the congregation with the pastor. As I have put one foot in front of the other I have shared my experiences with the elders and they have prayed with and for me, they have walked with me through these struggles, they have helped me find joy, and they have reminded me we are partners. Even as I have felt stretched thin as I care for our congregation and community, they have joined me in carrying out our worship and work.
It is from the elders that the idea for us to take a sabbatical came. In the past year and a half we have prayed, studied, discussed, met with others, and dreamed of what a sabbatical could mean for our congregation and for me. The dream of a time of rest, reflection, and renewal fills me with hope. The idea that others would care for me and my family in this way fills my heart. My family and I have spent over twelve years loving this community and congregation and we have sunk our roots deep here. Yet, right now, even though I know the road forward is there, the fog of weariness makes it difficult to see. So, like yesterday while I was driving, it is time to pull off for a bit and rest, to wait out the storm, and trust once I have rested the fog will have lifted.
Life as a pastor is unique and amazing because not only do you get help others be their best self but they get to help you be your best self, and together you get to make the world a better place. That means sometimes as a pastor you have to let others take care of you and your family, even though that does not come naturally. I do not know if the way will be clear for a sabbatical, there are more details to work out, but the simple fact that the elders, who I have met in their own storms, are meeting me in mine and are willing to guide me with the tools we have, fills my heart to overflowing.