The following is a bit general and relatively cryptic.
Back when I was in college I made a pretty big mistake. Actually, it wasn’t a mistake. The way I understand mistakes is that they’re much like accidents. They are things beyond our control. They just happen. This “thing” didn’t just happen. I was very well-aware of it. It happened. It was. It sucked (sorry, but it did). I hurt for a long time over it and sometimes I still do. I’m still not ready to talk about “it,” but I’m very well-aware, finally, that something good came out of this very intentional, very stupid, very wrong thing I did. Here’s what came of it: I realized that I am human.
It’s not that I ever thought I wasn’t human. It might’ve been, however, that I was all-too aware of the spark of the Divine by and through which I was created. I never stuck my nose in the air (that I can recall) but I can safely say that before this crappy thing I did in college, I was pretty much lilly white. I was really, REALLY good. No blemishes — nothing by or for which to be ashamed. I was a good, good, good person.
But, there was this thing that happened, that was, and then wasn’t and because of it I began to see myself as a real human being with abilities I didn’t realize I had — abilities to hurt people, abilities to hurt myself, abilities to fail and fail hard. Where those things don’t sound all that appealing, they are really good things. Why? Well, let’s see….
When we’re aware of our humanity we’re aware of our need for the Divine. Never did I hit my knees as hard as I did the moment that I realized I could royally screw up. Never did I cry in such a cathartic way and find God in my tears. Never did I realize that while I’m beloved I have a big responsibility to not do harm and how easy it was, truly, to do so.
When aware of our humanity we become more aware of our need for others — others to uphold us — others to show us the grace and mercy we may not be able to show ourselves in that moment — others to love us with an agape kind of love — others to remind us to love ourselves despite ourselves.
When I was deep, deep, deep in the valley of regret and pain and fear, I did not (not at all) love myself. I’ll go far in the other direction and say that I really hated myself. I despised who I’d become and held out no hope for my future. I was done with myself. I needed others to remind me that redemption and resurrection is a real and tangible thing even for the biggest of screw-ups (not that I want to try and gauge that).
Lately I’ve been reminded of my humanity again. This is so very important when one is a pastor. Though I’ve been given much authority and spend most of my days avidly seeking ways to act on behalf of God for the sake of others, I am not God. I can be dragged onto and strapped upon a pedestal and raised high but I’m still a very human, human-being. I’m fallible. I’m wrong. I trip. I plummet deep into my own valleys from time-to-time. I even get stuck there — there in those valleys that I dug myself. I am human. If I stump my toe (Sunday morning before anyone else is in the sanctuary on a pew), I cannot promise a 4-letter choice word won’t spew forth from my imperfect mouth (yep….spew). I cannot promise I won’t have a self-righteous moment of angst in objection to one thing or another. I cannot (CANNOT AND WILL NOT) profess that I am the perfect mother, daughter, granddaughter, wife (OH WIFE), or friend. I’d be lying and lying a terrible lie worthy of the flames of Hell (if Hell really has flames) to say so. In fact, I can say very truthfully (because anyone reading this knows they’re getting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God), I have experienced the negative reality of all of those things in just the last 8 weeks.
Here’s what I’ve found to be true, though. It’s ok for me to remind people that I am human. It is. Dear church, I am human. Dear Bishop, I am human. Dear husband, I am human. Dear kiddos, I am human. Dear dad, I am human (though dad’s probably the first one to tell me, “Um, yeah, Sara…..yeah you are). I am human and it’s going to be ok. Why? Well, I already said why.
When we realize we’re human not only are we more apt to remember that we need God, we’re also more apt to remember to lean on God. It’s not God that throws us into the valleys; that’s not how God works. It’s God who meets us in the valleys and either carries us or drags us along until we can find our way out again.
The other thing is more systematic. When we realize we’re human we’re more apt to lean on others. Until 2 months ago, I thought the covenant community of the United Methodist Church (specifically within the clergy community) was an illusion or some misguided attempt at care and accountability that’s always failed or done more harm than good. Oh but have I seen differently lately. I’ve watched the concept that is covenant — love, care, concern, faith, encouragement, accountability, HELP, guidance, and the list goes on for miles, be a real and honest active entity within the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ and on my behalf. I’m floored, really. I’m surprised. I’m glad.
I’m amazed, actually, at what happens when both the covenant relationship we have with God and the covenant relationship we enter into with one another, are both active when we’ve bought property in the valley. It’s this novel idea that goodness and mercy aren’t just God’s to give and what amazing things can happen when we actively seek ways to live into a covenant modeled after our relationship with God, with each other. It’s salvific in the here and now. In this very second, it is my saving grace.
Maybe the next Christian novel to fly off the shelves should be this one: Surprised by Covenant.