A couple of nights ago I was at a restaurant with Aubrey and Talli, sort of a dad’s date night. On the table sat one of those wooden puzzle games, the kind that fits together neatly into a shape (in this case, a three dimensional plus sign). “So, this thing comes apart?” Talli said, as she rolled it over in her hands. She finally gave up and tossed it to me. After fiddling with it, all it took was one little twist…one little shift, and all the pieces were apart in my hands.
My goal in this week of leave isn’t exactly de-construction. Kind of the opposite, actually. I’m trying to put the pieces back together. But figuring out what got me here, the post-mortem, might help the re-construction.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the “homework” for the conference next week, Miroslav Volf’s new book Free of Charge. Buy it. Buy it now. Click the link, order it, read it, ingest it. As I read it today, I think I saw the little twist, the little shift, that started unravelling the pieces, that began the process of getting me to this place.
God, Volf writes, is in essence a Giver. We don’t have to earn God’s favor to receive, nor is God a Santa Claus. Life isn’t about us; it’s not about our striving and our working, nor is it about getting our wants and desires. Life is about God, who loves to give. Life finds purpose for us when we realize God gives to us…in order to turn us into givers ourselves. More than that, God invites us to join with God in the giving.
I had many doubts about becoming senior pastor at Newberg Friends, doubts that took months to work through and release. I doubted my maturity, my experience, my ability to manage the expectations that came with the role. God gave to me in response. God gave first and foremost through the community at Boise Friends, who loved me enough to seek God with me, to release me to this task. When I came, I knew it was God’s call. I knew I couldn’t do it. I knew it was God within me and tangibly present through others who would make it possible to serve in this role. I started well.
Somewhere along the way came the little twist, the little shift.
Somewhere along the way, I started carrying the emotional weight. I started taking the responsibility. I started unconsciously to say, “Yes, God, thank you for the gifts and the call and the community and the support, thanks that you’ve given me all that. Now I’ll use that for you.” I’ll do what you want in this role. It’s the little twist that made it all start to come apart.
Acknowledging that it’s all God’s…God’s call, God’s gifts, God’s mission…it isn’t quite enough. Volf writes that the way to keep giving from becoming destructive to ourselves or to others is to partner with God’s Spirit in the act of giving. I don’t want to overstate this, because obviously there have been all kinds of times in the last three and a half years where I have partnered with God’s Spirit, where I’ve been in the right place at the right time for the right reason. But on some fundamental level, I made the little twist that I shouldn’t have, and shouldered responsibility that wasn’t mine. I made the little shift that didn’t leave room for God’s Spirit to keep doing the giving, that let me take credit for things I shouldn’t have. To push deeper, I think it led to me trying to pour out of “my” cup that God had given me, rather than being a conduit of God’s never-ending spring. “My” cup went dry when it didn’t have to, when God’s Spirit wanted to be partnering with me in the act of giving.
You know, at the restaurant, being the one who finally figured out how to get that little wooden puzzle apart made it a lot easier to get it back together.