Three years ago I wrote a post that summarized:
1. Things I wish people wouldn’t say to me about being a single clergywoman
2. Suggestions of more encouraging, affirming things to say to a single clergywoman
Recently, some people told me that they’d read the post for the first time. A writer’s moment of mild panic began. I couldn’t remember what I’d written in 2013!
One search of the blog later, I breathed a sigh of relief. Memory refreshed and mind calm, I laughed at the words that had bothered me three years ago. While I still believe what I wrote, I wanted to write what I believe now.
Writing is a funny world. Wordsmiths pour their souls into phrases relevant to a specific time and place. The artist within the writer wants his words to endure. The writer who is also the artist wants to hone her craft, ever growing and improving. We look back at some pieces and say, “Hey, that was better than I thought. I should pat myself on the back.” Other times we can’t find the “delete” button soon enough.
Then there are the pieces like “What Not To Say To a Single Clergywoman.” These are the writings that I like to “remaster:” keeping the substance but enhancing the details. I try not to change what I wrote. Instead, I try to write as a person who has changed.
Rather than preach what not to say to me, I would begin with what to say.
What are your goals and dreams?
Tell me about your family.
What’s the best vacation you ever took?
Tell me a funny story from your college days.
What do you do to relax?
Tell me your favorite memory from childhood.
Why do you do what you do?
These are questions and invitations to know one another better—whether you’re a single clergywoman or a married astronaut or a divorced truck driver or a widowed schoolteacher. These are examples of open doors to know each other better—regardless of age or background. The list is not exhaustive. It is merely a suggestion for how to connect and communicate with one another.
We live in a world filled with limitations. We fill out forms where we have to check boxes. We go to work at a specific time on specific days and leave at specific times. The essays we write for classes have a maximum word count. We define ourselves by our driver’s licenses: hair color, eye color, height, weight, address, etc.
What if our conversations with each other took the opposite approach?
What if we approached every person we met as a mystery created in the image of God?
What if we quit trying so hard to put each other in boxes of basic descriptions?
What if we really listened to each other’s responses?
As a pastor and as a writer, I spend a lot of time in seeming one-way communication. I preach, and the congregation listens. I write, and you read what’s on the screen. But that is not the whole story. Long before I step into the pulpit or open the computer, I try to listen. After we say "amen" or I click "publish," I try to listen again. To the needs of the congregation. To the heartaches of the community. To the stories of the world. To the voice of God. Some days I’m a good listener. Other days I’m a better talker.
So goes the story with all of us. We’re human.
Instead of what not to say to one another, let’s focus on what we hear from each other. Let's remember that the Spirit of God listens, too. Let's speak to each other in a way that invites Christ Jesus into each conversation. In affirming one another, we praise the One who has affirmed us.
all good things to each of you,
P.S. For more readings from the archives of what to say / not say, check out "What Not To Call This Clergywoman."