I remember as a pastor sitting in a meeting where someone read a litany of complaints about my ministry, covering most areas of church life. Stunned, I had a hard time taking it all in. It turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, but I was rather shocked in the moment. I wrote last time about a Third Place, an actual physical space to go in order to think and reflect. We also need to develop over time (and it takes a long time), an internal place so we can reflect in the moment. When we can maintain a place inside ourselves for reflection, an internal place where we maintain the boundaries around ourselves, we are less vulnerable to the conflict and criticism that can sap our energy.
Our place is the center of our “true selves” as Thomas Merton wrote about it. We become in that place who we really are, who God created us to be. Merton writes in New Seeds of Contemplation, “to work out our own identity in God…is a labor that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands close attention reality at every moment, and great fidelity to God…” (p. 32) This is much harder work than finding a seat in a coffee shop to get out of the office, but worth every ounce of effort.
When an unexpected challenge or crisis comes along, we may be caught up the reactions of the moment. (I’ll say more about facing a crisis on Friday.) I walked out of that meeting reeling. But as we cultivate our inner space, our true self, we can find our equilibrium more quickly.
4 replies on “Do You Have Space Inside?“
This quote is a great example of having a research approach to ourselves and to life. When we can do that we are more able to respond and not simply react.
I’ve recently been reading “On Becoming a Person” by Carl Rodgers. Early in the book he lists a number of learnings about himself that have been important to him. One is this: “Evaluation by others is not a guide for me… I have come to feel that only one person (at least in my lifetime, and perhaps ever) can know whether what I am doing is honest, thorough, open, and sound, or false and defensive and unsound, and I am that person. I am happy to get all sorts of evidence regarding what I am doing and criticism (both friendly and hostile) and praise (both sincere and fawning) are a part of such evidence. But to weigh this evidence and to determine its meaning and usefulness is a task I cannot relinquish to anyone else.” (p. 23)
And a key part of focusing on self involves developing, over time, a sense of self that is not dependent on what other people think of us. That is a deeply spiritual question. And not easy for many of us clergy who grew up with plenty of expectations (to be good, to be helpful, to accommodate to others).
You are brave to share a scenario that is all too common: being blindsided by an unexpected confrontation during which we are given “THE LIST” of grievences collected, in secret, over time. All too often leaders take THE LIST at face value. To do so is to focus on content over process (“What’s really going on here?”).
I jokingly tell my students that for a fee I can provide them with THE LIST so that on the ocassion they are confronted with the litany of complaints they can say, “Wait a minute, let me get MY list and see how well the two match.”
You are correct, Margaret, that in those times focusing on self, rather than on content, is the key. If you can give up expectations of outcome, or trying to convince the grievance party that they are mistaken, you can usually come out all the better for it.