the A word

We cannot please everyone. We know this. But sometimes it’s even our job to piss someone off, gently, but piss them off nonetheless, stand up for what’s right. We expect, anticipate fallout. It’s good. It means that a hard situation is being wrestled over, but at least it’s out in the open.

We can handle this, we feel in control of this. But it’s the completely unexpected, the unknown, the X factor that has us all flummoxed. Years ago I was standing at the door on Christmas Eve, shaking hands as people walked out. I served a small church in upstate New York. It was the kind of church where all the kids “came home” on Christmas and there was not a seat to be found.

I was burnt out, I was tired, and I forgot to recruit someone to do the lights for the candlelight/Silent Night portion of the service. I asked a session member, he was also the plant committee chair, he had also been a member since his youth. He should know how to do this, I would not need to micromanage.

I was wrong.

The lights didn’t go down all the way, and something just didn’t “feel right”. It was not my fault, it wasn’t even this guy’s fault. But on the way out the door the daughter a parishioner who I see a few times a year walked out without saying hello. “Where’s [insert name here]”. At that time she storms back in and exclaims that was the worst Christmas Eve Service she’d ever been part of!

Well…

It didn’t matter what it was or how it was or why it was. All that I heard was negative feedback. All I heard was someone was upset. All I heard is that I’d ruined Christmas. As if I had all that power. Or someone had given me that authority.

The truth is, I let her ruin my Christmas. I spent all Christmas Eve and all Christmas Day filled with anxiety.

Anxiety continues to get the best of us. Over the last few weeks I have seen a reasonable group of people tear apart decision after decision many people have made (including themselves as a body). There is no going back, but we do it because we hope we can find the mistake. We pray we can pinpoint the person and the thing that created the angst.

Truth is, that’s rarely the case.

Even if we could go back and anticipate everyone’s reaction and what everyone wanted and what everyone was thinking it probably wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.

On that Christmas my sermon could have been better, the lights could have worked great, and every single thing would have gone perfectly. That woman still would have had the worst Christmas. Because the anxiety she was feeling was not about any of it.

But it’s going to come out somewhere, and it happened to be me.

My mistake was letting it affect me. Yet, how could I not? It’s just who I am. What I didn’t do (what I constantly strive not to do) is continue the cycle and push the anxiety on other people.

I did nothing wrong and going back and changing anything wouldn’t change the outcome but this situation/circumstance/life is hard and we don’t like hard. Surely it’s someone’s fault. Surely someone is to blame.

As leaders we find ourselves in this position a lot, we are even taught that it’s the measure of us doing ministry right. I’m still learning not to harbor the anger I get from receiving so many people’s anxiety. I am still learning not to be disappointed in myself or someone else for not being appropriate with their anxiety. For it is a dangerous weapon.

Anxiety (and fear and the like) is a silent killer of relationships and it should be handled with thick rubber gloves. I look forward to the day that the CDC finds a vaccine for it, eradicates it, and sticks it in their vault next to Polio and Small Pox.

Until then, breathe, sometimes things are just difficult and we don’t need to go around blaming everyone else for that feeling. It doesn’t have to be your fault, but it’s not necessarily mine either, sometimes life’s just a little difficult.

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State of Emergency

I often feel like I live in a world with Peter from Peter and the Wolf. With 24 hour cable news and GPS tracking on everything, 50 thousand different ways to get ahold of someone, panic is always created.

Several years ago a study was produced that told us that social media was creating anxiety.  As if I needed a study. I love social media; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I also love, texting and email and yes, even talking on the phone (shock face).

I always have my phone on me nowadays, I used to leave my house without a phone all the time, I actually didn’t really have a cell phone until seminary and would often drive my husband crazy for not answering it when it rang.

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When did that change? When did everything become such an emergency that I must pull the phone out of my pocket with every ding, chime, or bloop? If I can’t answer right away I feel as helpless as that kid in The Christmas Story with his tongue stuck on the pole.

Today in Maryland we are having a snow day. A real snow day. Not only are the kids out of school, but the city and county of Baltimore are shut down. State of Emergency declared by the governor. We have over a foot of snow in our backyard and “no one” is going anywhere.

Yet, I guarantee the mall is open. I guarantee the movies are open. I bet all chain restaurants and Starbucks and nonessential stores are open.

Because we don’t value that word anymore. We don’t understand a true emergency. We have cried Wolf too many times. If you don’t answer my text right away even though iMessage told me you read it already, I think you’re pissed at me. If you don’t answer my call I can’t leave a voicemail because I know you don’t listen to them (I mean who has time for that?). And god forbid I don’t respond to a comment on Facebook even though I got 15 different notifications about it.

What is an emergency? Several years ago I drove in the middle of a hurricane to sit at the deathbed of a parishioner, to hold his mother and wife’s hands, to cry with them and wait until Hospice arrived and have the body taken away. I was rerouted several ways for washed out roads and it took me hours to go 10 miles. Today, if that call comes, I will go.

These are emergencies, just as doctors, nurses and support staff will get to hospitals, and firefighters to their stations, and snowplows will be on the roads.

But unless that call comes, I will not get in my car and drive, I will not go to the mall or movies even if I get cabin fever, and I will not answer every text while snuggled up with hot cocoa and puzzles with my children.

If you need permission, here it is. The texts will wait, the emails will hold. Very little has to be done exactly in this moment. So cut yourself some slack, take a deep breath, so when a true emergency comes you will be prepared and people will take you seriously.