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.