I Got This

Shortly after I became a mother someone very close to me in my life thought they could parent my children better than I could, it wasn’t anything personal against me, (took be a long time to figure that out) it’s just that she thought she was the best at mothering, ever.

I would get so upset, she would change the rules for my young children, rules and schedules that worked for my family and my household. I’m not talking about a visit to grandma’s where cookies before dinner were okay, I mean implementing strict household rules in my household. I mean sitting at my dinner table while I answer a question to my daughter and having myself interrupted for her to give her instruction to my daughter.

I would sit in my therapist’s office and cry in anger.

I realized, with my therapist help, that she thought there was not enough discipline in my household, so she was going to fill the role. And who disciplines? The parents, or the leaders. So with the help of my therapist I learned a phrase. One to “keep in my back pocket.” I let the little stuff go, but when I needed to I would pull it out. “I got this.” I would hold my hand up calmly and methodically and say, “I got this, thank you though.”

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It has proved helpful in so many ways.

Years ago when I was working on my pastoral identity (an ongoing process) I painted a picture for my spiritual director of how I worked as a leader. (this BTW is not a perfect analogy)

I come along when the church is in a rut. There’s a leadership (non violent) fox hole (or bunker) with no one or very few people in it and a lot of people standing starring in. I come in and fill it. Sometimes with dirt (things that don’t need to be replaced) or dig out space (for new things) as I have the gifts and the ability to do almost everything in the church bunker. It took a while in my first call learn that I couldn’t do that for very long, without it being soul crushing. So I started pulling people in with me, supporting them and teaching them to take over roles, not just anyone, but the people called, using their gifts. When the bunker was full or someone got tired or toxic we learned to replace or shift them and have a steady stream of people in and out, moving around, and eventually I am no longer needed and am lifted out, off to find a new bunker.

The most important thing for your ego as a leader, admit that all those people that came to replace you, may not do it better than you, but it’s better that they are doing it.

Do you get that? Because it’s kind of beautiful when it works. John 14:12 says that once he is gone, we will do all the things that Jesus has done, and more.

We are not Jesus, but we are better together. This is proven over and over in every leadership book. If I do it all myself (for longer than a short period of time), then when I get out of the bunker, there is still a void. And voids, my friends, is where destruction happens.

There is a catch or two- 1) you MUST be called to THIS bunker at THIS time, it’s the Esther moment. The other problem with this is that sometimes someone or a group of people jump in the bunker and say, “it’s time for you to get out now.” This person/group are the ones who want to be the ones to fill the void, they think there’s glory in it, or just simply don’t understand the process.

When creating a healthy system from a leadership void you almost have to overstay your welcome in the bunker. At my last church I overstayed by about 2 years. I needed to for family reasons and it gave them a sense of security in a rough time. I used to think this was a bad thing for all of us, but now I realize that it was the best thing.

Things aren’t perfect there and some may even be mad at me for “abandoning” them, but I needed to leave the bunker so they could see what they were made of, they knew how to run that church and they hired a pastor who did the things they needed him to do, and ONLY the things they need him for. In other words they said, “We got this!”

If I left earlier then the confidence wouldn’t have been there. God is pretty wise sometimes…

However, my heart breaks for the moments of mutiny. I have been working with several young pastors who really relate to this analogy, and I’ve been there. Either they seal a lid on you leaving you stranded and alone, or they force you out without understanding that important last step, “overstaying”. Because overstaying is where you pretending to be holding on to the seat, but really, they’re riding the bike all on their own without training wheels.

It’s about confidence. Without the last step of perceived overstaying, they never gain the confidence ride freely, to look back and say, “I got this, thanks though.” As you wave them into their future.

Be kind to your Pastors: A Christmas Public Service Announcement

My number one piece of advice to anyone under any amount of stress (especially a crisis) is, “Be kind to yourself.” If it’s a couple experiencing stress, “be kind to each other.”

I think it’s time to name something. The holidays? This is a crisis, we are all under an amount of stress that is higher than normal. So here’s my advice, “Be kind to one another.” “Be kind to yourself.”

Now, one more thing I need you to do, “Be kind to your pastor.”

I had a parishioner, who is a retired school teacher, tell me today that the holidays were hard for him because he didn’t get out of school until December 23 and he would wake up and all of a sudden it was Christmas Eve.

Guess what? Your pastor wakes up and it’s Christmas morning, kids are running down the stairs, family is gathering. This week I’ve been preparing for 6 services. None of them are the same, it’s not just the same service over and over again, each unique. Next year we will wake up and go back to work Christmas morning.

When I wake up on Christmas morning it’s like someone has been holding my head under water, let me up to breathe and then pushed me back under.

Christmas is such a juxtaposition as a pastor. I have to stay in town, I do not travel to family, and my family doesn’t travel to me (which is their choice). I work Christmas Eve and sometimes Christmas Day. It is my job and I know that and I have made peace with that. But the stress is high, for all of us.

It is my least favorite time of year as a pastor, if I’m honest. People are the nicest to me they have been all year. I get goodies and presents and notes talking about the difference I have made in their lives and how much they appreciate me. And then I get “projection vomited” on by others.

They can’t get their mother, daughter, son, father, husband, wife, friend to do what they want and their frustrated and they’re angry and they can’t yell at them because they don’t want to ruin Christmas so guess who they yell at? Yep. Their safe place, their pastor.

Just this last week a friend, who is a pastor, got pulled aside and yelled at like a child in the hallway because of something petty. (This, BTW happens a lot as a pastor). When we tell our “higher ups” we get the advice to have “thick skin.” We are put on a pedestal we never asked for.

I was told recently that as a pastor I was not allowed to have a bad day, that I am supposed to perfect the art of “faking fine” and should never allow my parishioners to know when life is difficult.

I actually think my parishioners would disagree, I believe they like that I’m real. But I will say this… that is the expectation.

The week of Christmas the Pastor’s stress is high, really high for another reason. I’ll let you in on a secret, it’s the candles.

Every Christmas Eve I hear, “It’s just not Christmas until I stand in church with the candle and sing Silent Night.” Sometimes I wish we could all admit that and show up on Christmas Eve, say hi, light the candles and leave.

One year the person doing the lighting (because the lights go down when we sing silent night) messed it up. I blame myself (because that’s what pastor’s do) for not adequately preparing him for the lighting changes. Which were written out, with a chart, on which buttons to push at which word. Most of the lights were left on while we sang, no “mood” lighting for the candles.

As I shook hands on the way out the door a woman yelled, “that was the worst Christmas Eve service I’ve ever been to and you have ruined my entire Christmas.” Everyone heard her. It was everything in me to stay at the door. I cried through the entire night and Christmas Day. I loved this woman, her opinion meant a lot to me, her family’s opinion meant a lot to me. “It’s not about me, she’s under a lot of stress.” I repeated over and over and over. Still couldn’t shake the anxiety.

So please… Be kind this Christmas, be kind to your pastor, we are all under a lot. I mean a lot of stress. We have family stuff too. Yelling at us will only make US feel bad. We love you, we genuinely do, but we are not your wife, son, daughter, husband, mother, etc. We are not the “sunshine and roses” expectation of the holidays. We are not the person who cut you off in traffic or even the recipe that you’re following but still can’t seem to get your mother’s molasses cookies right.

We are your pastors, we love you, we wish you a very, merry Christmas, we’re here for you, but we have stuff too.

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