When I was a young choir director in my 20’s, I had strong opinions and I used to believe that rapid imposition of “my ideas” was in the best interest of the community. I was concerned about how the pastoral climate reflected on “my career.” I wanted to leave “my mark. Iq still cringe a little when I hear “my ministry,” “my vocation,” or “my priesthood,” referenced by peers or colleagues. Where is God in any of this?
As I continue to mature, I pause more often to seek God’s presence. Especially in moments when things aren’t going my way, I challenge myself to sift through the idle chatter of pride, and tune my ears to the voice of God. I am forced to remind myself that pastoral ministry is not about what I can do, but how the Spirit can work through me. Every day, I am challenged to put my ego aside so that Christ may be revealed.
Over the course of the Advent season, our Gospels tell us of people who, in one context or another, step aside from self-interest to serve a greater cause. In the first week, Jesus speaks to us in a parable about servants who labor in a house that is not their own, so that it may be prepared for the master’s unannounced return. Later, John the Baptist readily proclaims that one mightier than he is coming, and explains that he was sent by God to prepare others for the coming of the Messiah. Finally, we hear of Mary, who turns her life over to God so that his son may be born on earth
In any given week, I am faced with several challenges, concerns or conflicts, just like anyone else. Some of these issues are related to the responsibilities of serving as pastoral associate. Other weighty matters relate to friendships, finances or temporal needs. Whether the matter is professional or personal, daily challenges are temptations to believe that I actually have power and responsibility to fix a situation that is placed before me.
Earlier in the fall, I was parked outside of a supermarket. I’m not very good at parking, and when I got out, I noticed I was slightly over the dividing line. I got back into my vehicle so that I could adjust my positioning. When I put my key in the ignition, it failed to engage. Although this had happened on two other separate occasions, the ignition had engaged after about three attempts. This time, it was completely stuck. I asked a passerby to help me, and even he couldn’t get the car to start.
The passerby asked me if I would like for him to wait with me. I assured him that this was unnecessary, that I was going to walk around Shop-Rite and that I was certain that by the time I finished shopping, my vehicle would probably start. I was uncharacteristically calm. Ordinarily, when I feel inconvenienced, my thoughts spiral into an endless swirl of ridiculous scenarios and irrational preoccupations. I’m beginning to discover that vain worry has never served me well. In this instance, I chose a radically different approach.
I went into Shop-Rite. I wandered around with an empty shopping cart, trying to clear my mind. I bought another bottle of Yes laundry detergent that I love so much (and which is sadly now discontinued,) and two single-serve packs of vanilla flavored almond butter. I called my mom, to explain the scenario and she had no recommendations for me. I had no immediate plan. Mom and I agreed that the way I was responding to this was a bit out of character for me. When I got to the register, I was chatting with the cashier, and told her about what had just happened.
“Oh,” she said, “your steering wheel is locked. Put your key in, turn it as best you can and try to turn the wheel back and forth a little. That happens to me all the time.”
When I got to my vehicle, I did as suggested. The ignition engaged. I pulled out of the spot, drove away, and haven’t had an issue since. In all of this, I learned that I don’t have to solve the problems of the world or even my own. All I have to do is step aside from myself, and look for God. It’s not about me.
P.S. If anyone knows where I can get some more Yes (Fresh Clean scent) I will be eternally grateful!