Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Usefulness

I was shocked to see today that Tipper and Al Gore are separating. A couple who seemed so happy throughout their days of being in the public eye, a couple who seemed so together when the marriage of President Clinton seemed so shaky, a couple who kissed for what seemed to be several minutes on stage at the Democratic National Convention, is splitting up, calling it quits after 40 years of marriage.

How is it that people can stay married for 40 years and then give up?

This question is the one I asked earlier today when I posted my frustration and sadness on Facebook. My friend, Cynthia, answered with a comment that is making me think.

She wrote, "...But it also made me think of a group I was involved with that stopped getting together and meeting because "it had run its course of usefulness for us." And I wonder how we have turned our relationships into commodities whose only requirement for existence is their "usefulness" to our personal lives--within marriage, within our churches, *with* our churches, with any other group where relationships get difficult and require more work than we think we can give."

I've given up on such relationships before. There have been many times when I let go of something because it no longer seemed useful. I used to meet with two nearby clergy every single week. These two individuals are the people who got me through the really hard first year at Mount Vernon Place when I wanted to quit more often than I wanted to stay and be a pastor. However, when our time together turned from a time of sharing about life and the church to a time of studying the lectionary together, I decided it was no longer useful. It was no longer useful for me to spend an hour or so of my time with these two clergy friends. A few years later, one of them has moved away and the other one is only three blocks away, but I never see her. I miss her friendship deeply. There are many times when I wish I would not have given up on that sacred small group. My deeming something unuseful resulted in a near loss of relationship with someone who is responsible for getting me through the toughest year of ministry.

Certainly we all have an experience of determining that something is no longer useful. I am guessing that we also all know what it feels like when someone has determined that spending time with us is no longer useful.

What would it mean for us to take every single covenant we have made and see it as something we have to work hard to keep no matter what? What would it mean to see the commitment we made as the reason we stick with everything instead of whether or not something is still useful in our lives? Would we then see the church that was useful when we were lonely and needed friendship as the place that might be able to use our gifts today to provide fellowship to others? Would we then see the church that nurtured our children when they were little as a place where we are called to serve today - to ensure that other children have the same experiences as our children? Would we see the Bible study group that was useful to us when we were going through a horrific divorce as a place where our gifts can be utilized because someone else might be going through a difficult time? What would it mean for us to approach our relationship with God as not something we use only when needed - when we're on our knees and crying out to God in the midst of a major disappointment, or one door having closed after another, or an illness or loss - but something that we enjoy because we are a covenant people bound to God who promises to always be with us? What if we always remembered the promises made at our marriage - to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, until we are parted by death - as promises made for life and not just when being with our spouse seems useful?

What about you? What have you let go of because it no longer seemed useful? What might you be called to take up again whether useful or not?

8 comments:

Shanel said...

there are many things that I have let go---but two main things are exercising and I lost touch with people in the military. I too, couldn't understand how the Gore's could split after being together for so long but I'm assuming there have been problems for many years and now they just can't seem to work it out.. it's unfortunate.

pastor.cynthia said...

Thanks, Donna--your words on the subject take what I was thinking to the conclusions I have been drawing too. This keeps coming up for me.

And maybe it is that we need to learn that covenant-making is more serious than mere acquaintance. We don't and can't make covenants randomly or haphazardly. They are only meaningful when we take on the covenants of our callings--which flow out of the covenant that God has made with us in our baptism.

That's why everything flows back to the font for me, and it's why it was so important to me that Clayton and I have a remembrance of baptism during our wedding service--so that I can remember that this covenant that I made that day has its roots in my calling to be a covenant-keeping person. It's why I think we ought to have a remembrance of baptism at every ordination service. It's why I think we ought to remember our baptism when we are looking at our vocations or at whether we are called to parent children.

It's gift and gift and gift and gift, and I've got to remember at those times when I'm not seeing the gift of these relationships that it doesn't mean the gift isn't still being given to me. Maybe the vessels of oil and flour that I'm pretty sure will run dry at any second are actually enough to keep those I'm responsible for (both the stranger and myself) fed.

I'm as guilty of covenant breaking as anyone--but maybe this will get me off my rear to do something about it. With your permission, I'm going to use your blog words in some messages to my congregation. Oh, the repentance! But oh...the grace!

Cynthia

cheryl said...

Thank you for this amazingly insightful and thought-provoking post. You are making me think - and making me think that I miss Wed morning bible study :)

Donna Claycomb Sokol said...

Shanel - thanks so much for your comment.
Cynthia - yes please share the post with your congregation. You are the motivation behind the post - your words are what inspired me to begin with!
Cheryl - let's start Bible study again - let's talk!

Jane said...

Donna thanks so much for your blog on this subject. I have been in a covenant group for the last 10 years, and at times we have felt that it was no longer seemed useful. We have gone through many difficult times, death, illness, divorces, empty¬-nesters, and loss of jobs. The Bible study group was useful to us when we were going through these horrific situations in life. Now we are starting to break our covenant, this is so timely for us to hear. You have just open up my eyes and I would love to share this with my group with your permission. Again, thank you for your wisdom. Jane Murray Jennie's Mom.

Donna Claycomb Sokol said...

Jane - Thanks so much for your words. I am grateful the post is helpful. Yes, you're welcome to share it with anyone else.

I keep wrestling with the words, too, and what comes to me today is how good the church is (pastors at the forefront and myself included) at encouraging usefulness over faithfulness. I'm wrestling a lot and am grateful to Cynthia for sharing with me in the first place.

Blessings to you!

Jerry Roberson said...

A college friend once stated that friendships exist "... for a season, for a reason, or for life." While those may not be her own original words, they are definitely words worth contemplating.

If we gave our continued 100% to every endeavor we enter, one of several things could occur, including physical/mental/spiritual burn-out and including missing other opportunities.

I agree that seeing a marriage end, such as that of the Gores, is very, very sad. There was a time when I would have said that any marriage is worth salvaging at any cost. I now realize that self-preservation is also a worthwhile endeavor, and sometimes it comes at an unfortunate cost (such as divorce). We don't know the inner workings of the Gores' relationship with one another. I can only hope that they continue a loving friendship, despite the failing of their marriage.

We as humans, and as Christians, must give our all, but realize from the outset that some commitments will (and must?) have an expiration date. Other commitments (covenants?) should be seen through lifelong lenses.

pastor.cynthia said...

I think Jerry points out what I was circling around--that we need to be very careful then with "covenants" vs. "commitments". We cannot make endless covenants and expect to be able to keep up with them.

On the other hand, I see more and more people making fewer and fewer covenants, so I would like to see us making careful decisions about how we use the word "covenant". We can only model this in the relationships that we have and keep and when we choose to be parts of "covenantal relationships", that we don't let go of them as easily as the acquaintances that are more seasonal in our lives.

And even when those relationships are seasonal, I'm concerned that we are too quick to let them go using the tagline of "usefulness". I am serving in a church which has been difficult--I've been in more therapy, I've cried more, I've had more backtalking and rumors spread about me. Yet when I've prayed about it I'm called to still be here, even though I feel limited usefulness as the current pastor.

That's not a perfect analogy, but I've seen so many people "move on" from places where they maybe need to stay and work through the issues--both with people and with communities. I agree that there are times when abuse is involved that separation needs to happen, but I don't want us to move on too quickly from places of pain or hard work simply because we don't see any value in working through the pain.