My Dear One,
How do you know when it’s time to let go?
I recently let my congregation, Salem Lutheran Church, know that I will be leaving at the end of July. They are lovely people to whom I have belonged these last three years and to whom I will continue to belong. (Can you ever truly leave a community, a church, or a family? You always carry them with you and a part of you always remains with them. You lived life together, the good and the bad. That is something that cannot be undone.)
Salem Lutheran took me in, an Episcopal priest, to be their “Pastor for Intentional Faith Development.” I’ve served alongside their Lead Pastor, a lifelong Lutheran who once opposed the agreement between the Lutherans and Episcopalians that allows for such things. Then he hired me! Life is funny.
It has been good. But it’s time to go, for many good reasons I won’t begin to enumerate - except for one, because I think you might know what I’m talking about:
I simply sense it is time to let go.
It’s a familiar feeling. I’ve had to let go over and over again in my life, at times I wanted to and at times I didn’t. Growing up with divorced parents, I was always saying goodbye to one to go be with the other. I had to let go to go off to college. I had to let go of my first job to open up space to embrace a better one. I had to let go to go off to seminary. I had to let go of my first call to go take care of my ailing father-in-law. I had to let go of serving in the Episcopal church to take the work that was available to me in this area. I had to let go of a marriage of twenty years. I had to let go of churches I knew I had done what I could for. I had to let go of grandparents who shuffled off this mortal coil.
Letting go hurts. So why do we do it?
Because life is a continual process of holding on and letting go. Birth is our first practice in letting go, as we leave the warmth, protection and security of our mother’s womb, all we’ve ever known, to enter the cold, bright, scariness of the outer-womb world. Then there’s watching our children walk into their first day of school without us. Then, in what seems like the very next day, driving away from their dorm room as they begin college. Holding the hands of loved ones as they decided to let go of life or, perhaps more accurately, let go of their fear of death. But until that day comes for us …
To refuse to let go is to refuse to go on living.
Like a trapeze artist, we must know how to let go of one security as we concurrently reach towards the next. Done well, it is a graceful flight, full of life. Done poorly, it is nothing but pain and tragedy.
Here’s the key difference: knowing when it is the right time. This is not always clear. It takes a good amount of both careful consideration and instinctive intuition. When the time is right, the question becomes: will we have the courage to let go and grab on to the next swing?
Throughout the gospels, Jesus is constantly calling prospective disciples to “Come, follow me.” In every instance he was both calling them to let go and grab on. Let go of your life in order to embrace the possibilities of new life. Let go of fishing for fish and embrace fishing for people. Let go of what you thought possible, of the security of the boat, and come walk on water with me. And in one of his least “stereotypically Jesus” moments he said to let the dead bury their own dead.
Despite the scariness of not having the steady income that comes from working for a congregation, I sense it is time to let go and reach out to new forms of ministry and living life. (I’ve tried this once before. It didn’t go so well. It makes this time harder.)
The ways I have been serving God in and through congregations these last 15 years have been an absolute blessing. I might do it again in the future, I don’t know. But it is clear to me that, for now, Jesus is calling me to walk a different path, to walk deeper into following The Way and all it stands for: that fullness of life is found in the Four Essential Pathways that I realized form the foundation of all major world religions.
I’ve spent much of my adult life searching for and identifying God to people in and through the Christian church. God is most surely present in these places in our worship, our faith formation, and our service. But God is, of course, not confined to the walls of any particular church, denomination or religion. God exists in every space and every place. So, as I wrote last week, I’m not of the illusion that I’m on a quest to “go find God.” God is already with me. But I am on a mission to “go notice God” and point out where God is present in so many other places, people, and particularities of the world.
I’ve been encouraged by these last several months of writing again. I’ve heard from many of you about how these reflections spoke to you in ways you needed to hear. I’ve seen my list of subscribers grow slowly but steadily to over 400 people. It is a far cry from the tens of thousands on the mailing lists of well-known writers; but it is a start. It is there, and I’m letting go of one thing to grab on to this and see where it takes me. God has been calling me to do it for a very long time. And I continue to find I can’t fully do it while also trying to hold on to the church’s rope and keep a struggling congregation moving forward at the same time. Perhaps others can do both. I’ve not found that sweet spot. I’m too “all in” whatever it is I am doing.
I do wonder about how to pay the bills and such. But really the financial piece is not the crucial factor. What’s at stake is much, much bigger than me or what I might write or do. What’s at stake, I firmly believe, is the future of our faith. I will not enumerate all the ways our current model of being the church is in serious need of rethinking. You likely don’t need the case made to you. What I will say is that I believe, with all my heart, there is a much more vibrant, hope-filled way to follow The Way.
A Way that is:
more free to follow the Spirit’s lead,
connected to the everyday struggles people face,
not afraid of either hearing or speaking the truth,
free to engage with the social and even political issues of the day,
open to engaging with a diversity of viewpoints, and
respects the dignity and inherent goodness of other faith traditions.
This is the kind of community of learning and support I will continue to work to create with following The Way. I pray it is something you and many others want to see emerge in our world as well. I will be creating a solid resource to help you learn about and explore the Four Essential Pathways. But I cannot create it alone. I’ve tried that before too. It’s something we will either create together or it will not happen.
Thank you for all your engagement and support over these last few months. I look forward to all that is to come for us, especially this fall and beyond. Thank you for replying and letting me know your own thoughts. Thank you for sharing these WayPosts with others via email and social media. Thank you for your support of $10 or $50 a month so I can continue to work on growing and sustaining fTW.
But, most of all, thank you for your own faithful journeys and for taking the time to read fTW as a part of your own growth and weekly sustenance, your daily bread.
I’m not walking away from anything. I’m walking towards something - something very good, I sense.
As one of our fellow followers of The Way, Franciscan Brother John Ryan, wrote to me in response to last week’s post, it is a good idea to remember:
“To find where you are going, check the rearview mirror to see where you are coming from.”
I don’t know exactly where the road ahead leads. But I can see where I’ve been. It was hard to let go of those places and those people. But I look forward with great hope and faith to all the places and people whose paths I’ve yet to cross.
I pray our paths continue to cross as well.
following The Way,
P.S. - If you didn't catch it, you might read last week's companion WayPost about staying still, Still is Still Moving, at https://www.followingtheway.me/blog/still-is-still-moving