Whew! We are back from our weekend in Sussex, New Brunswick and though tired, I feel immensely blessed and content. The countryside there is beautiful, the people we spent time with are some of the most dedicated and real folks I know, and there was a goodness and hopefulness that permeated every waking and sleeping and eating moment.
I was given a chance to talk to the pastors on Friday morning, so here is a brief summary of what I said (and did).
I asked God, what would you say to these pastors and leaders? And it seemed to me that he responded with, "What would you say to Dean?" Well, that's easy! I would say to Dean, "Thank you for loving me! Thank you for taking care of me, for providing for me, for telling me I am beautiful, for making sure I have food and clothes, for defending me, for cheering me on, for believing in me and seeing my potential, for sticking by me on my bad days, and for never walking away." And I think that this is what God wanted to say to this group of pastors: "Thank you for loving my bride, the church. Thank you for taking care of her, for seeing her beauty, for sticking around even when things are not going well, for defending her and standing by her and providing what she needs. Thank you for seeing her potential and telling her she is beautiful. Thank you for loving my bride."
But I think that often as leaders, we forget that we are also part of the bride, the beloved of Jesus, and it is important for us to remember a few things that a bride does.
1. Respond. We get so used to leading that sometimes we forget how to be responders. Dean and I have been taking a few dance lessons and I am realising that I try to lead too much sometimes. (Dean and I did a little impromptu dance here. Such fun.) I know the moves and have a good idea of what I am supposed to do, so I just do it, but that is not dancing. Dancing (for me) is responding to the slightest touch, the smallest pressure on your back, the lift of a hand, and letting someone else lead. If you ever see me and Dean on the dance floor, you will see me smiling and giggling a lot, because there is something very delightful in responding, to being led in a graceful and beautiful rhythm, and trusting the other person to call the next move. Let us recapture the delight of being good responders.
2. Receive. Leaders and pastors give a lot and sometimes we forget how to receive well. I am not talking about money, but more important stuff. There is also a difference between "taking" and "receiving." We can "take" time for ourselves, but that is not the same as receiving time as a gift from God that we had no part in conjuring up. Three things that I think leaders need to receive and recognise as gifts from God are:
a) energy: We expend a lot of energy doing good stuff and there is often a sense of depletion. This is not how it should be. The spirit of God, his gift to us, is our energising force, so let us never do anything without him. When you feel your energy getting low, ask for the gift of life. This is what Jesus is; he is Life. (At this point, I gave an energy bar to a woman in the room who was a mother of 5.)
b) friendship: Being a leader or pastor and walking with people on their journey of faith inevitably seems to bring clashes. In my own life, I have seen my role as a leader or team member cost me dear friendships. I don't know why or how these things happen, but they do, and it makes me sad. I believe that friends are one of the greatest gifts in life, and I pray that God gives leaders friends that stick closer than brothers. ( I gave a Starbucks gift card to a pastor who later told me that he had lost several male friends in the past years.)
c) time: There never seems to be enough time to do all the things that need to be done and to invest in all the people that need our help. But I have to believe that God knew what he was doing when he created time. He did not create something that was too small or inadequate for his purpose. Time is a gift and God's gifts are always given freely and many times lavishly. May we receive each day as a gift and give our time freely to those things that God deems worthy. (I gave a current TIME magazine, which happened to be titled "24 Hours that Saved the World" to the one of our long-term leaders.)
3. Radiate. Leaders have so many tasks to accomplish and some plan that is always being worked on. Something is always going through our minds; thinking and planning about what to do about a certain situation. We often forget to just sit there and look pretty. And that is what brides do. They sit there and look pretty. They radiate beauty. We reflect the glory of Jesus. We are beautiful, and when people look at us, no matter how unlovely we are feeling at that particular moment, there is always a sliver of the glory of God that shines through. So go ahead, sit there and look pretty.
This photo is a shot I took by thrusting my hand up out of the open sunroof and pressing the button, not knowing what I was pointing at. I happened to capture the sky, threatening to rain, and some rolling fields just outside of Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.