Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Willing to be disappointed

Someone has to be the first one to say, “I love you.”

When Marcie and I were dating, we came to that point-- like so many other couples-- in which one of us had made up his mind about where all of this was headed. In our case, I was the one who had arrived there first, and it would take Marcie some time to get there with me. I knew it would take her awhile, that she wasn't ready. In spite of that, I put my heart out there and told her how I felt: that I loved her, that I thought I wanted to marry her, and that I was willing to wait for her to decide how she felt.

It took more than six months.

Still, I wouldn't have changed anything if I could do it again. The anguish, the tears, the wondering were all worth it. I could live with the lack of immediate response. The vulnerability that defined our relationship at that time has set a pace for a safe, committed marriage of more than seven years. I would do it again.

If you have to wonder why, then you've never had a love for which you're willing to be disappointed-- nay, devastated. I loved Marcie then so strongly that I had to try-- no pain was too much.

A friend of mine (I'll call him Fred) is going through this right now; he knows the kind of love I'm talking about. The thing is, though, Fred is already married, happily, with children. The love that he's feeling is love for a church-- not THE Church, or just any church, but a particular church. Fred is a candidate to be pastor of this flock, and he has fallen in love with them.

Fred has a peculiar opportunity, in that he has gotten to know this congregation more than most candidate-pastors can. Since Fred is still in seminary, he is without call, and the church is not far from his seminary. He has preached there, met with the Search Committee and the Session, and helped with Vacation Bible School.

Talking with Fred the other day, he reminded me of a man searching for a way to tell his girlfriend that he loves her for the first time. He reminded himself of that, too; he spoke of this feeling like the time he was courting his wife-- uncertain of how she felt, second-guessing whether it was the right time, but wanting so badly to say it.

“Say it,” I told him. “Don't hold back. Find a way and tell them how you feel-- that you're ready to commit if they are.”

Candidate-pastors (and their families) get to a point in the process when they begin to hold back. They want to guard themselves against the emotional devastation that will befall them if they don't get the call. Frankly, many are glad they did, because they didn't get that call. And they go through this cycle time and time again, getting close and then guarding, withholding the best of themselves from a church that could be the one for them-- and then disappointment mixed with relief when they don't get it.

But if this relationship really is like a marriage, why hold back? Maybe the committee needs to see that little piece of a candidate-pastor that he's withholding to know that he's the one for them. Maybe that “best of himself” that he's clinging to, protecting, is the part of a pastor that is the most important. How will they ever know it is there? How can they be sure that they will ever see it?

On the other hand, a candidate-pastor who abandons himself to the calling, forget the pain, will show himself to be every bit of who he is. They won't wonder about what they haven't seen. My hunch is that most committees can tell when a candidate is giving them everything, and if it came down to a candidate who held back and one who did not, which would you choose?

Maybe this approach is threatening to some of us. It's too personal, too vulnerable, too relational. Then again, maybe personal, vulnerable, and relational are what life, church, and ministry are all about. Maybe the self-denial and service that Christ calls all Christians to embody-- and pastors to model-- involves exactly this kind of relational vulnerability.

Giving yourself completely is risky, but it might just result in a wonderful relationship. Mine did-- I love Marcie more today than ever, even if I didn't know whether she would love me back. Candidates can't predict how committees will respond to such self-denial, but the possibilities are beautiful.

1 comment:

Craig said...

Great analogy, Ed. Well-written and one of your stronger posts. It's all about metaphor and simile. Some may not know when which is which, but most know they like it (or the other...whichever).

Keep it up.