by Mary Linda McKinney
All of the hard, heartbreaking things of this catastrophic pandemic aside, the shift online has been really good for me as a minister and doer-of-things. I’ve been able to attend, create, facilitate, learn, clerk, host, nurture, hold space, tech, and experience many, many events that I would never be able to do if the time, energy, and cost of travel were part of scheduling. Because of the flexibility of Zoom, I have been able to say “yes!” to wonderful opportunities I would be unlikely to have in a non-locked-down time. For the past 18 months, I’ve been really happy juggling lots of balls; I have felt well-used and well-balanced…until…suddenly…I didn’t.
Just before bedtime a couple of Sundays ago, I glanced at my schedule for Monday and found that I had double-booked myself. My mother has dementia and I attend all of her medical appointments with her and my father, who has hearing loss. I discovered that I had scheduled an appointment with a new doctor at the same time as the weekly School of the Spirit worship that I clerk. I quickly sent an email to the SotS board asking if anyone else could cover it but (I assume because it was so last minute) nobody responded. My plan B was to go to the medical appointment, step out of the room to open the Zoom meeting, and then turn the hosting over to the first person to show up. Wouldn’t you know it, the new doctor was in the room with us and talking about something important at the exact time as the start of worship. I excused myself and stepped into the hall, started the Zoom meeting and waited very impatiently. When no one had arrived by 3 minutes after, I felt I couldn’t miss any more of the doctor and closed the meeting.
And boy, did I feel terrible. I had been in this great flow of juggling all these wonderful balls with everything going smoothly when a miscalculation in one toss–saying yes to an 11:00 a.m. medical appointment and not considering the 12:00 worship time–turned me akimbo. I let down the folks who come to worship together each week and School of the Spirit. One definition of “sin” that you’ll hear amongst Liberal Friends is “to miss the mark”. The feeling I had was that I had most definitely missed the mark.
I’m not usually one to beat myself up over mistakes. Geez, if I did, I’d be black-and-blue all the time. I learned to fail young and am pretty ok with “good enough”. Because of this, I was surprised by the intensity of the feeling of missing the mark that landed in me. I sat with it and pondered, held it in prayer and asked God to help me understand what I needed to learn. What came to me was that I needed to lay down some of the balls I was juggling.
“But wait, God! I love doing all these things. Even the hard things that I don’t really enjoy I still love and feel well-used in doing. How can I choose what to lay down?” I cried.
“Continue to reflect and you will find what you need to do,” was the response given by my Inward Counselor.
So I sat and held my schedule in the Light. The clarity that came to me first was the understanding that I will not say yes to anything without holding it in prayerful discernment. (This is probably extremely obvious but I needed to clearly articulate it in order to heed it.)
Next, I needed to become clear about my priorities. That was pretty easy:
- Creating the Faithful Meetings program for School of the Spirit.
- Tending to my marriage and adult children.
- Providing support to my mother and father.
- Caring for my adult foster son who suffers from mental illness and drug addiction.
Once my priorities were named, I could then hold my other responsibilities and the support I receive up to them to identify which ones:
- emotionally or spiritually nurture me so I have more to give to my priorities
- are neutral when it comes to taking or receiving my energy and only take time
- are an energy drain
This was a little harder to do, especially discerning between neutral and drain when it comes to the amount of time spent. Some things were unmistakable, like laying down clerking SotS worship. Some, like my husband Mark & I being released from the Friends Couple Enrichment program Drop-in Dialogue, which we created and have carried since 2019, have required a lot of prayer, conversation, and discernment. A couple of them are huge energy drains — like the program I was in the middle of scheduling for a local spiritual retreat center — but are important commitments that I can’t drop, and are of a limited duration and so are do-able. The one that I have no clarity about is the informal spiritual conversation I host every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Morning Communion gatherings nurture my spirit and give me joy but disrupt my sleep schedule. I will continue to hold in curiosity what my Divine Dispatcher wants me to do.
It is funny to think about the fact that years ago I struggled to embrace the word “minister” to define the work I do among Friends and in the larger world. Now I identify as a minister so thoroughly that I have to look closely at myself to see where my ego is hooked in it. It has felt like all the juggling balls were lovingly tossed to me over the past year and a half and during that time, maybe I grew too attached to some of them and held them longer than I should have. Maybe I was supposed to toss them to someone else or let them fall to the side but I became enamoured of how they looked and felt flowing through my hands. It is good to be reminded that these balls are not mine and the grace to keep them moving comes through me, not from me.
I will end with these queries I have found useful in knowing what balls to juggle and when to let them go:
Am I submitting my full self to God so all of me is available to do the work God is giving me to do?
Where is my ego asserting itself on its own behalf through this work?