How do you manage your internal weather?

In my very first parish post-ordination, I was an assistant to the rector, and mostly in charge of youth and outreach. And to prepare for developing new outreach program possibilities, I put a survey in the bulletin. What were people’s interests? The mistake I made was listing a few examples, one of which was something along the lines of a social justice group.

One of the members, an older man who had a reputation for grumpiness, came up to me after the service practically yelling about liberal, radical troublemakers and not at this church and citing some history that I didn’t know about, etc, etc, I was very bad, etc, etc. I was a little stunned by his fierce anger, and that it was directed at me. I said it was a survey and nothing was set in stone, and that his opinion was clear, and thanked him for telling me. I probably didn’t mean it.

He didn’t talk to me for a long time. And so I prayed. Maybe I was naïve to think that I could have a positive relationship with everyone in the parish, but it is still what I hope for and work toward even today. I prayed for peace. I prayed for reconciliation and common ground. I never prayed that he would change, but I prayed that I would, that I would somehow learn the best way to love him. Months went by.

Then one evening in Lent we were having a Wednesday night meeting and meal. I was there early to set up, and was fretting because I didn’t know how to make coffee (still don’t…) and there he was. He said, I know you can’t make coffee. And to his surprise, I hugged him. We didn’t have to change who we were, we just had to focus on love being the most important thing, and being right a distant second.

At the Winter Convocation last weekend, both the presenter and the musician talked about the importance of “managing our adrenaline” or “managing our internal weather”. If we cannot be in control of our emotional life, of our reacting, then we cannot be peacemakers and reconcilers.  Again, not making peace to subdue or ignore. Making peace to build healthy community.

In order to be able to manage my own reactions, I pray, I exercise, I try to see the good in people. I often ask myself how someone might have come to the position or situation they are in, as an act of empathy. I also yell and scream at the radio when no one else is around. The point of it all is to do what I have to do to maintain my own equilibrium, my own internal calm, so that when I am called on to be a non-anxious presence, a witness to God’s love, I can at least give it a try.

How do you manage your internal weather? How can it be an intentional, spiritual  practice?

Safety

I have been thinking a lot about safety. We just had a big meeting to examine all aspects of safety in our church. The speaker, who was great, said that we cannot hide behind thinking that nothing bad would ever happen. We have all seen fires and natural disasters and tragic loss of life happen, in churches and elsewhere. He said we cannot hide behind thinking that God will protect us.  And he helped us think about where we can do better, which was what we wanted. We want to do everything we can to be prepared, and live in hope that we will never need to use any of it.

I believe that God is active in our lives, constantly creating with us the Kingdom of God now. I believe that God has the power to do anything. And that God could avert disaster. But I also know that God gave me freedom, and in exchange for that, I have to live with the consequences of sin in the world, mine and everyone else’s. I know that God grieves our sin and works unrelentingly to help us be free of it as much as we possibly can.

God gives us guidelines to live by. God gives us prophets and martyrs. God gave us Jesus to show with stunning clarity how to incorporate those rules in a way that lives them from the heart and not the head. And now God gives us each other, a church filled with courageous and faithful people working to be holy. God gives us what we need to become all that God created us to be.

So it isn’t that God will not spare us, that God will not take an active role. God is calling us constantly to goodness. And it isn’t that God wants bad things to happen. God grieves every tragedy in ways that only unconditional love can grieve.  God is always with us and always loving us.

So what is safety? I think the plans we are putting into place make us prepared and prudent, and are a good thing. For me, safety is people, being surrounded by community. It is being loved. It is spending time with people I trust and who value me in return. There is no safety in isolation, no safety in hiding away. And there is no safety in physical power. There will always be a stronger person, a more powerful weapon. There is safety in love and trust and care. There is safety in building a better world for all people. And so even as I work on the list of how we can do better, I will feed people, and talk to people, and believe in the innate goodness of all people. That is our ultimate safety in my experience.