Asking the Right Questions

We’re back! Back to school, back to work, back to church.

Back to mask-optional and in-person meetings; back to coffee hour and passing the offering plate and sharing Wednesday dinners together.

And it feels really, really good.

Not to say that COVID is over – of course not – but that, thanks to a whole variety of reasons, we are largely able to resume the kinds of fellowship, learning, service and worship together that we have always had, and have missed so dearly over the last two and a half years.

I’m grateful for it. Grateful to see and be with you again, to give and receive hugs, to share meals, to sit in our homes and to talk with less anxiety about what unknown germs we might be carrying.

In the midst of my gratitude, though, I’m noticing that the switch back to something-like-normal isn’t immediate, or without its bumps.

We are coming back together carrying all sorts of things: grief, frustration, anger, sadness. Continued anxiety about the present and future. Relationships that were interrupted, or severely damaged, by our differences over COVID, over our discernment process, over politics, over a host of other things.

We are coming back together, which is the important thing. But we are coming back as complex people with complex experiences and feelings about what we’ve been through. And it makes for some friction.

I noticed this last fall, when I went on an annual retreat with several seminary classmates, now old friends and colleagues in ministry of mine. We met early in 2020, in February, just weeks before everything exploded, and then gathered again some twenty months later in October 2021. And we had some bumps. Some moments that went awry. Some tears and aggrieved silences. Some lingering difficult feelings.

I went on that same retreat this weekend, and I admit to feeling lots of trepidation about it this year. Would the same friction rear its head? Would I come home rested or depleted, feeling built up or worn out?

Overall, it was a great weekend. Wonderful food, long slow hours of visiting, devotional times and afternoon rests and walks in the crisp fall air. And also…there were still bumps.

But when we encountered them, I tried something different this year. Instead of retreating internally, to sulk or nurse my wounds, I leaned in. I asked some questions. I tried not to let my assumptions or interpretations of a conversation be the only information I took in, but I interrogated things. I tried to do so gently, and with humility, but also with some courage.

I said things like, “I’m sorry if my words came across this way” or “Here is what I was trying to say.”

I tried to learn more about a situation. To understand why something said or done created an immediate, sharp reaction instead of internalizing it, deciding I was bad or stupid or disliked.

Let me tell you. It wasn’t less tiring.

But it was so much more helpful.

I left those few days of intense, intentional relationship building feeling more connected, feeling at peace, feeling reflective and cared for and centered.

And I am thinking about that all this morning. Wondering if I stumbled, with the help of God and a good therapist, upon some tools that might be useful for all of us, as we come back together.

Not magical fix-its, or easy buttons. But assists. Ways to lean in towards each other, instead of further away. Ways to try and break down some walls, instead of adding to them bit by bit.

I’m going to try this again, and I invite you to join me. The next time you’re with a friend, or in a group, and that friction rears its head…think about some questions you might ask. Some ways you might work toward understanding each other better. Some information you might seek out that brings clarity.

And I hope you’ll also find that the right questions help us find our way back to each other.

yours,

Pastor Jen

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