Things I Learned from my First Year of Being a Pastor

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(Ordination Day)

I started working as a pastor and as a university chaplain last year. Officially 28 hours per week. Ended up being between 32-40 almost every week. The jobs are a mix of a lot of meetings, lots of leading, public speaking, organizing, and a lot of alone time, reading and writing and praying. To say it was an adjustment from my life as a stay at home mom is an understatement. So here are some things I have learned as I have a bit of breathing space to reflect this summer.

 

1 –I learned that I did a lot around the house before. As evidenced by what the house looks like now.

And now that I’m working? At a job I LOVE? I don’t want to do it – clean – anymore. Just plain fact. I want to work! I want to read, write, talk to people, and have great ideas and put them into action – and I want to do this for most of my day. And then I want to come home and play with my girls, eat good food, read them books, play a round of monopoly, go for a walk and then sleep. I don’t want to clean. It has given me great empathy for Brad though – he doesn’t want to clean either and now I know its not because he hates me, or this life we have together. It’s not because he doesn’t value me or the work that happens at home.   Its just because he doesn’t want to.

So we are working on this – cleaning is an important part of life.  Because the other thing that has become abundantly clear is that I did a lot around the house, because I like to have a clean house. I need it to be clean so I can think.  So I can be a good steward of the stuff.   The clutter almost killed me this year. The energy it takes to organize stuff, to consistently act upon my “stuff” in ways that put it where it should be – oh this is hard on -30 degree days when we’ve been in the car for over an hour in winter traffic and I want to, need to, sleep and the kids are hungry. The “stuff” gets put off. And then piled up. And then it haunts me and judges me and I get all huffy at it and in a weird rebellious move I don’t touch it on purpose – like, “ha ha, clutter. That will show you to sit there and be all judgy of me…”

Also I have learned that this strategy does nothing.

So what I have learned is that I did a lot before. And am still doing a lot.   But in a different area of my life and the old one still needs attention.

 

2- I have learned that I love structure. And plans.

I love it and need it and also balk against it and throw it off. Its like I need it so that every now and then I can disregard it—there’s something in my psyche that needs both.

One whole empty day that I can arrange my way is a glorious thing. I read the news, drink my coffee, read a book, think about the work that I’m going to do that day, clean a couple things, spend extra time on my makeup, read some more, get doing some work and then go get the beautiful kids and take them outside for a bit, – and its usually a good day.

But after one empty day, I feel crazy. The coffee starts to burn in my stomach, the news is like a whirlpool I can’t get out of, the cleaning just devolves into putzing around the house aimlessly, I stare too long in the mirror and then find every weird thing about me is hopeless and awful, I try to read again but start to wonder if anything will ever change in the world – and then I start to wonder if anything I do means anything. And then I start to think about how all the successful people in the world wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today, and then I feel like I am wasting all the things I’ve been given and then I just end up crying on the living room floor.

So ya, structure is my friend. I need to have meetings – out of the house, with people, with purpose. I need to work on sermons outside of the house – that news, and that mirror and those piles of clutter are just too loud when I’m in the house for too long.   And I think in this season of getting used to a different use of my time, retraining my brain in very real ways, having things that keep me on track and in the right head space are invaluable. Things like regular people and outside and commitments. Structure. But not too much.

 

3 – I have learned that I need my friends. This is a non-negotiable.

When you are a stay at home mom, you make the most out of having beautiful children yell and interrupt your every waking thought and needing you to teach them about poop and the results of sibling violence and “paint-doesn’t-go-there” by getting together with other moms and then at least you are beside each other while you are being interrupted by poop and sibling violence and paint in bad places. You feel a bit less alone when you see a friend.

This year I didn’t see my friends as much. And I love these women. I feel like I have been graced with an incredible assortment of women who love and think and struggle and laugh and for some reason they like me too. And I missed them so much this year.

One of the results of being on your own too much is that you forget who you are. I think we need people to help us know who we are. Now that’s not always the case – there are times and seasons when we necessarily HAVE to separate from community to get to our bottom and get to a deep honesty—that’s usually where transformation starts. That’s usually where God finally gets a word in.

But then there are other times when too much time alone will make you weird. And forgetful. Of the gift others are and the gift you are too.

I found this year that I needed my friends to remind me who I was. To be that mirror. To draw me back out of my over-thinking, over-feeling self and grab me by the shoulders and point me, reorient me to what they know is my truer self. What is my north star.

Just talking and celebrating the things we love most of the time will do this. Our love for books, fish creek, walks, podcasts, our babies who aren’t really babies – all reorient me. And then talking about where Jesus is in this-all the stuff around our own parents, our own crippling doubt, our own deep anxieties, our own exhaustion at the thought of trying harder, our own ups and downs with our husbands, parents, children-we talk about where Jesus is in that. And I am given back myself and I can go and do this life better. These women are truly incredible, very beautiful and so ordinary. I have screenshots of my favorite texts from them in a file on my phone and I look at them sometimes when I’m spiraling down.   Even from afar these women save me.

 

4- Ok, in general,  have learned I just need people.

I have always been on the line between introvert and extravert. But I realized that I need people for my energy especially in work that requires a lot of thinking, praying and writing. Half of what I described above as lack of structure – the general malaise that sets in after too much time alone -has to do with lack of people.

I remember Eugene Peterson once saying that when he feels down, depressed, confused, he goes and sits somewhere in public. He goes, listens, maybe joins in conversations. But he said he just needs to get out of his own head and be with real people in their real lives.

This I need.   I work better in public, I get more done, I work more efficiently. I don’t even know why other than people give me energy and focus. I locate my work and root my work better when I’m in public – at the library, coffeeshop, interfaith office, with others—than I do when I’m on my own. And that makes sense. My work as a preacher, as a small group leader, as a spiritual director is about people in their real lives. So maybe I work best where there are people in their real lives.    And wow, the conversations I’ve had (and overheard…..so many first dates happen at coffee shops!)

 

5- I have learned that I need a big calendar.

I need to see all the dates for months at a time in front of my eyes all at once.   I find it hard to conceptualize my time and what needs to be done next on the calendar on my computer or phone. I have to see it all working together in one place for me to be able to feel like I have a handle on it.

I learned that just because I write something down in the calendar on my computer/phone does not necessarily mean anything. I have to have a sense of where the event fits in with my day/week/month/semester otherwise my brain kind of just excises it.  I need to grasp the whole to be able to remember the parts.   Like that time when I had in my calendar that I was supposed to volunteer in my daughter’s class. Then THAT MORNING, literally right before school, I made a dentist appointment for myself for the same time I was supposed to be in the class. Both entries – right there in front of me but for some reason, my brain didn’t grasp this. And THEN, I drove the girls to school, walked them to the doors, hugged and kissed them, walked back to my car and thought to myself as I got in- “Wow – a whole morning to just sit and work on my sermon! Yes!” And so I drove to a coffee shop and worked happily on that sermon – it was a great one, btw. Worked happily on it until I got a call from the dentist, and then it slowly dawned on me why my daughter’s teacher looked SO PUZZLED at the door when I just happily waved goodbye.

So I have big calendars now. And lists. And every alert you can imagine. And big coffees. And notes written in pen on my hand.

 

6—I have learned that I can be scared. A lot. For long periods of time. And still be ok.

From September until February, I did something new, unfamiliar, and not yet in the lexicon of things Jacqui does, and SCARY every single week. Preaching, leading a service, hosting a blanket exercise, my flipping ordination examination, dealing with my flipping ordination examination….doing communion, my flipping ordination examination. I remember in February sitting at church realizing – I don’t think I’ve had a week yet where I didn’t live with full-on nausea/butterflys/anxiety about how it was all going to work out, this new thing I was doing this week. And I realized I was tired and needed to have a bit of a break from all that adrenaline. But I did things that were very hard for me. Very new for me. And I still feel sick to my stomach a lot. But I did it, I’m doing it, and I am ok.

 

7 – And the biggest, coolest thing I’ve learned from working is this- I am FULL of gratitude.  I know, I sound like the happy, clappy Christian just full of the joy of the Lord – the kind that usually make me roll my eyes juuuuusssttt a bit because I have a snark problem.   But here we are.   It’s true. I am full of gratitude and I am full of love.

I love working. I love reading. I love talking about meaningful things.   I love praying.  You know this about me. I love that I am working and reading things, learning things, being able to synthesize words in such a way to tell others words – this is my dream, dream, dream job in many ways.

I love the university. I love the students. I love the diversity.  They are interesting and thoughtful and I’m going to say precious. Not in the cutesy way of “aren’t you precious” but in the way that their lives, the way they are sounding out the depths, trying out themselves in this world of big decisions and lots of other people, are precious treasures, totally unique. Like we all are.   Just so much to offer the world, their communities. Its been very cool to be able to see that a bit.

I love scripture. In recent years, its been handed back to me, like a gift, after I necessarily had to ask hard questions of it. Don’t be afraid of the hard questions reading scripture will make you ask – this book, but most importantly the love behind it, can absolutely handle the questions – not because it will make sense like a science text makes literal sense. But because it represents the bigness of God’s vision, the beauty of his creation – the people, their cultures, their shadows and their bright faiths.   I love diving into it. I love Paul now! Isn’t that crazy? It’s funny how when you are honest about your questions, you start to read different. And maybe it’s just been such a gift to see that the courage to follow that different reading through has resulted, by grace and a expansion of vision, given these words back in a real and powerful way.  And while I know the harm these words have been used for, I also have been given the grace to see where they spread God’s good.

I love my babies.     They are growing in magnificent and loud ways. They are extraverts, talkers, thinkers.   They laugh a lot. They fight a lot. They question a lot. They never wear clothes that you couldn’t see from space.   Working this year has let me see them in a new light. They aren’t mine – they belong to God.   And he thinks they are incredible.   He loves their loudness.  And I love that guy I married – he has grown as I have this year – he’s been frustrated as I have this year, he’s chosen grace and I have needed to this year and I could not imagine a better person to wake up in approximate closeness to, separated by a six year old who still wriggles in every night and puts her hands on us and says, “I love you guys” every night.  EVERY. NIGHT.

I love my mentors and the other pastors in my community that I’m lucky to know. I can’t even describe to you the quality people that this work has put across my path. Women and men who are thoughtful and very prayerful. Who are asking good, hard questions. Who love to learn about Scripture, culture, people, and most of all, I’ve found, they are a people who are honest about learning trust.   These are people who I trust with my doubts. Who can handle life without either over-spiritualizing it, or diminishing the struggle but still keep hope. Who meet with me to talk through my life, or my work, knowing that they are really inextricable and it’s a good but hard task to balance them both. I just have been consistently encouraged and glad to know that I landed here. Now, its only been a year, so there’s a good chance that I’ll eventually see the other side of them too – I mean, we’re humans – but this is a good place to be and good people to work alongside.

And I love this little church I’m at. This beautiful growing seed of a church has gifted me with real discipleship. And what I mean by that is that doing real, accountable, long term community means I am actually growing and changing – maybe even into something like Jesus. I have learned about patience, kindness, gentleness – mostly with myself.   And I am learning to receive – feedback and grace. In community is the only place I’ve actually learned about trust, about not having to solely rely on my own capacity and I’ve had to learn to ask for faith and ask for help – cause I don’t have enough on my own. I have been shaped more into someone that knows I am not in control.   I’ve learned about the strengths of regular, ordinary people, and the treasure they have to offer the world. Our church has become increasingly more inter-generational in these last years. What a subversive gift to the world this is – to value every person no matter what stage of life they are at and learning from those who have lived longer. What a transforming gift to me these people are. Kindness, mercy and goodness are all present here.   I could write way more about church. This church. These people.

Ok, as I’m writing this, I have realized that I could go on and on about more and more things I am very thankful for.  As my husband likes to say, “seriously….why so many words…..”

But mostly, I am so thankful for this opportunity to work and exist doing things I love to do. I am thankful for this work.  And it feels good to write it out as one big prayer of thanks.

So, here’s to year two!   I am excited and terrified for it.

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