“Strengthening us to… love” — From the collect in Midday Prayer, PC(USA) Daily Prayer App
“Loving can hurt” — Ed Sheeran, “Photograph”
In worship last Sunday in a time of quiet reflection following the sermon I invited the congregation to listen for God speaking to them about a way they are called to love, a specific individual or a general group, with a particular action or a more all-encompassing attitude. I listened, too, and with the rest I jotted down what I heard.
This nudging came to me in the context of my first Sunday back leading worship after sabbatical. I had been back in the saddle, so to speak, for about a week, and my mind, thoughts, and prayers had been (still are) spinning. I feel different. I want to lead in a different way. Life went on while I was gone, in some ways that I expected it to and in some ways that I didn’t, and I’m trying to figure out where I fit, how I will respond. I have new insight into vision and direction for the church that I want to move forward and bring to life. I am rested and energized, but sense already it will be easy to tip into overloaded and overwhelmed.
And the nudging from God that I heard was to love the church first. Now that doesn’t mean change may not be part of my calling, or pieces of our life together might not need to be improved. Not tolerating was most certainly part of what was spoken to me. But what I heard God saying is that love comes first.
I imagine (or maybe I just hope) I’m not the only pastor who sometimes gets caught up in trying to do “all the things” in my work. I don’t just mean tasks like email and phone calls and scheduling and writing. I mean even spiritual sounding things like serving and preaching and praying. They are good things, and they look and sound and feel like faithful things. But I heard God telling me they have to start with love, and I needed to be reminded of that because loving isn’t always easy.
A prayer I prayed from the order for Daily Prayer at the conclusion of my silent prayer this morning reminded me how hard just loving can be. Loving when we disagree, loving when we feel slighted or disrespected, loving when trust has been broken, loving when we are reunited after time apart, loving when we have competing interests, loving when we are growing, loving when we are changing, loving when the future is uncertain – it’s all hard work.
Yet this is my call, as a pastor, sure, but really as a disciple of Jesus. In easy times and difficult times and all the times in between, my call is to love first. It must be the beginning of all I do, and if I’m beginning anywhere else, I am starting in the wrong spot. It is helpful to be reminded of that, and it is great encouragement when the call sounds daunting, if not impossible, to remember that I even need strength from God to accomplish it.