It was the first email in my inbox this morning, the one that felt like a punch in the gut. Strangely enough I knew it was coming, a look here, a terse answer there – they all pointed to this moment, but I hoped that I was just being a little oversensitive.
Since the day we knew we would coming alongside this small, declining rural church – my husband as part-time Pastor, and I as the “pastor’s wife” – we had talked about how the building would definitely need some updating. It had been maintained well, but it looked tired and out of date. I think that the congregation had simply become accustomed to the way it looked – it was familiar and comfortable – and not that bad, to them.
Anyway, over a year ago my husband and I started talking about some ideas to update the space. We talked to different members, everyone seemed happy about a little change. We invited a decorator to consult. We presented a detailed plan to the board. It all seemed on the up and up. I was going to start painting this week.
…and then this morning happened.
Nevermind that I had a raging headache and a teething baby and children that were starving, and a breakfast planned that would take at least 20 minutes. Nevermind all that.
Was I reading this right? Am I really an insensitive, agenda-pushing, know-it-all? Was this the beginning of the end at this church?
My first reaction was to defend myself. I had been misled!! If I knew we had needed this, and this, and that, and that I would have acted different. I had a long list of reasons and excuses.
Well, thank God that what I didn’t have at that moment was time to write an email. All I had time for was 2 minutes between breakfast and school work to ask God to help me that day – to give me patience with my kids, to ease my headache, to help me focus on the priorities for today (and maybe for the baby to take a really awesome nap).
And then we opened the Bible to start our school day (we don’t always do this). I wanted to read the kids a story about Jesus. I thought I would read the Lord’s prayer – but the passage just above it caught my eye.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
I thought I would get to the email before lunch, but I didn’t. Then another verse popped into my mind.
Why was I disappointed? And why did I feel so defensive? And what response would bring healing to a church that has been hurt?
Was it really so important that we start painting this week? Of course not. So what was my real problem? Why sin, of course. My pride had been hurt. That’s the truth of it. I don’t like it when I don’t look good and I want everybody to like me all the time – and to like all my ideas and to want to do everything I want to do. Wow. I sound like a toddler.
I hadn’t been called insensitive, agenda-pushing, know-it-all – that was just all my insecurity trying to read through the lines. Insecurity is a liar.
And they weren’t kiboshing the whole plan – they just wanted a little more time to get a few things sorted out first. They just wanted me to rein in my enthusiasm a little bit. They were not being unreasonable. I was.
Fast forward a few hours and I am finally ready write back. Here is what I wrote, slightly edited to remove names and a few unrelated details.
Forgive me for not getting a chance to reply until now. It has been a busy day!
I want to apologize if it has seemed like I have been pushing my agenda. While I am excited about the changes, and would like to see them happen sooner rather than later, it was not my intent to be insensitive. For what it’s worth I think there has been a little bit of unclear communication – I won’t say miscommunication – just maybe some assumptions happening on all sides that have been unhelpful. Also, I was completely unaware that there was so much work to be done before we started painting.
I won’t pretend that your email was not a bit of a let-down this morning. I have been eager to see these changes we have been talking about for months finally start. But:
“Desire [zeal] without knowledge [wisdom] is not good – how much more will hasty feet miss the way!”(Prov 19:2) – I am prone to falling into this trap. Thank you for telling me the straight truth and reminding me of my own weakness.
I have been praying all along for guidance concerning the church, of course, but today I stopped to specifically pray about why I am so eager to get things done, and I can feel the Lord calming me. I am a Martha who gets wrapped in the distractions of doing – sidelining what is most important.
Would it be great to have the building revamped? Of course, and there is a time for that – but not at the expense of what will really change hearts – Jesus!! There is no comparison to what the Lord can do, and our church can be a vibrant place of worship, a place to offer a hurting world the gospel, even if we were meeting in a barn. How easy it is to substitute our good ideas for the only thing that is needed!
So, as far as going forward is concerned. Carl and I will be extra diligent in making sure that communication is clear. I can’t expect that every decision will have unanimous support, but we can at least be certain that everyone is on the same page.
On that note, while we are pretty sure that everyone in the congregation is aware that we have planned to update the church, I think you are right that we ought to “officially” announce the plans. Especially given some of the congregation’s past experiences, we ought to be especially sensitive to communicating honestly and clearly.
I will not go up to the church on Friday to paint a sample part of the wall – it will only take a few minutes. Once these busy few weeks pass and we are actually ready to move ahead I can do that quickly while I am there for some other reason.
How wonderful that our God takes the seemingly petty concerns of our hearts and walks us gently through them. There is nothing too small or too great that we cannot ask his help with. My day started out discouraged, but a few moments in his Word, in his presence, and in prayer and my attitude was lifted…and not just about this issue – we had a rough start this morning anyway. Praise the Lord it did not stay that way.
I almost wrote that I cannot wait to get started…but I can 🙂
I could have defended myself. I wanted to defend myself. In the end this was the humbler, harder, but right way. I received a response only an hour later and I couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and sympathetic answer.
God is good.