This morning, I opened Feasting on the Word to read these words from Helen Montoomery Debevoise:
The parable of the manager speaks especially to Christians or communities who have lost the vision of the larger picture. Who are the people of God? What have they been called to do? When we have no idea where we are going, the treasures in front of us are hardly treasures at all; they are simply things, things that have no larger value beyond my own need for them. These things too easily become objects to be used, misused and manipulated.
And now, I have to figure out if I am going to preach from my life. Am I going to talk about the fact that this is the question that is digging most at my heart. Do I dare say from the pulpit that I’m not sure where I am going and actually feel something like this shrewd manager? Because it is true. I won’t. I know that already. I know I won’t preach this because someone wisely told me that you don’t preach from the midst of the struggle. As awesome and vulnerable as it can be (and I have witnessed that), it is too hard. It’s hard for the preacher who doesn’t know how to respond to kindness and just wants to retreat into the uncertainty. And it’s hard on the congregation who wants to be cared for by the preacher but may now be worried that she’s going to dive over the edge. But, it is still hard to muster the courage to speak when these words hit a little too close to home. Stupid, stupid Revised Common Lectionary.
So, instead, I’ll whine about it here.
Over the weekend, while attending my beautiful friend’s wedding, I finished Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation in anticipation of the next meeting of my cohort for College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Theological Seminary this week. I closed the book and just sighed. Because the invitation this book offers is to create a plan to respond to that thing that you most want to experience in God’s grace. Or, more accurately, in Barton’s language: to work on the sin that is your biggest stumbling block. With a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly plan, you’ll be able to achieve this hope. You’ll discover God working. Or so her words seem to say.
But, what if I don’t know my deepest desire? That is after all what is supposed to ground this plan. It should be at the heart of it. What if I am aware that there is something missing but I really have no idea what I’m looking for? How do you create a rule of life when you really don’t have a sense of the larger picture? It doesn’t seem like enough to continue to pray with Thomas Merton, but these words seem to speak to all that I am feeling in my discipleship these days.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.