On Monday morning I was having a discussion with another person from church. During that conversation, I was asked to answer a question with the understanding that my answer would essentially be me making a decision about a church program. I knew what my initial or "gut" reaction was to the question asked. However, I also knew it was Monday morning, and on Monday mornings I find that I feel the energy and the movement and the rhythms of Sunday mornings uniquely in my body, mind and spirit. So, at that moment, I declined making the decision, and instead simply and respectfully responded, "Let me think about that...I don't want 'Monday' to make this decision." In other words, I didn't want my "morning after" fatigue and overwhelm to have enough power to make such an important decision.
You heard me say last week that it's okay to wait and listen to your life and then "proceed as way opens," as our Quaker friends say. This is true and is a practice worth engaging, I think. However, it is also true that the ways in which I am able to listen to my life and what it is saying to me are deeply impacted by the condition of my ears, my heart, my spirit, and my mind. My life might be screaming at me to proceed because way is opening a big 'ol hole for me to walk through, and yet my unchecked anxieties, my fatigue, my anger, or my listlessness are making it nearly impossible for me to hear any message pointing to any way other than the way to my couch, in my house, alone, and under a blanket (dogs or cats, optional).
In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah gets SO UPSET that he wants to die. To be fair, he was afraid because Jezebel had vowed to kill him by the next day. So Elijah flees and runs out into the desert where he finds that in addition to being scared he is now exhausted as well. This is the state of his mind, body, and spirit as he cries out, "It’s more than enough, Lord! Take my life because I’m no better than my ancestors.” But God, we read, encourages Elijah not to let fatigue, anger, or fear have enough power to make such an important decision. God provides a solitary broom tree under which Elijah could take a nap, and God also sends a messenger encouraging Elijah to eat and drink because he had a long road ahead of him. Rested, fed, and no longer thirsty, Elijah is able to press on for 40 days and nights to arrive at Mount Horeb to receive instruction regarding whom to anoint as his successor (Elisha).
The truth is, some days our hearts and our minds and our spirits are just not in any condition to make decisions--big or small. Our invitation as followers of the Way is to cultivate a practice of checking in with ourselves BEFORE we jump to decisions or conclusions. Do we have to make a decision right now? If so, what emotions or conditions of our lives do we need to name as that decision is being made? If not, what emotions or conditions need tending to before we are in a more balanced frame of heart, mind, and spirit?
The practice can start small--even with just an agreement that you make with yourself that you'll wait at least 5 minutes before making any decision, and in that 5 minutes, you can listen for your body to cry out with fatigue, or for your heart to whisper its fears, or for your spirit to name its anxieties. Our beautiful lives are speaking to us and are letting us know not only whether or not to proceed, but also whether or not we are in a balanced enough place to do so.
Learning the practice of checking in with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.