I avoided Facebook for most of last week. The collections of accomplishments for the year or the decade are…I can’t. It’s too tempting to write one, to blend in. And too easy to feel like I’m lying when I think about what wouldn’t be on it.
Please understand that it has been a fabulous decade in so many ways. I’ve spent all but a few months with Griz, the world’s friendliest dog. I’ve had the immense privilege of loving my spouse for most of it. I moved to a country where I no longer have an omnipresent fear of losing access to healthcare. I’ve been a priest in three parishes for nearly all of it. And I don’t doubt that the lists highlight the fabulous parts of other people’s decades.
The number I’ve been most tempted to cite is 0. This decade had zero brain surgeries. Last decade had three. Recovery was slower and more brutal each time. They seemed to be stealing my life as I tried to build one. And that zero lies. For all the things connected to those surgeries that I haven’t and won’t count this decade: doctors, appointments, lab work and tests, med failures and changes, migraines, MRIs, moments of fear or panic. No brain surgeries, so joyfully no brain surgeries, but a decade of living profoundly affected by events years ago.
And the decade had several years, terrible years to live, where I wondered who I’d be at the end of them. Years where my calendar was particularly full of doctor appointments; years where my life was particularly full of people behaving horribly toward me; years where I’ve thought seriously about to walking away from the church. Some times those years were the same year.
At the end of the decade I find myself holding my vocation more lightly than I have since I showed up, more full of doubts than faith about this priesthood idea, in my priest’s office to first discuss getting ordained almost two decades ago. As I have prayed and agonized over whether and how and why to continue as a parish priest, if and how to stay, I have remembered that being not just a priest but the priest of this specific group of people is one of the great joys of my being. Every time it was soul wrenching discernment. And I remain blessed with the privilege to serve and work as a parish priest for this specific group of God’s beloved. As I entwine my heart and life with another parish and remember the great joys, I also know that heartbreak will follow. From hard words said either in truth or anger, from the deaths and hurts, from my eventual departure (God willing, this is not the parish I will die at.).
Lightly, I remind myself as I learn how to love a new parish, is how we hold precious things, whether they are fragile or not. God’s call on my life isn’t fragile. It has survived both harassment and denial by others and my own doubts. It was never mine to hold tightly.
Heartbreak is, as the cross reminds us, the only guarantee in this life. Every story stops at points of heart break, whether death, distance, disagreement. The promise of the resurrection is that those are not final, but pauses. That, caught up in God’s love and promise of resurrection, our stories have new chapters and books filled with divine love and joy.
The best parts lie ahead of us. Not in 2020 or the 2020’s, times that will have their own mixtures of joys and frustrations, but with the God who loves us. The catch, no–not a catch, the truth is that following God often leads us into the painful, the heartbreaking, the soul wrenching, not to hurt or teach us, but because that is where God already is. It invites us to hold things we love dearly lightly, because they are held eternally by our God.