This week, I have been in Colorado Springs with a cohort of clergy colleagues as part of the Center for Pastoral Effectiveness of the Rocky Mountains. I began this journey 10 years ago with Track I, and yesterday completed Track III. The core of the retreats (6 retreats for each track) is to become fluent in Family Systems work. I am not sure that is ever really going to happen. Family Systems, or Bowen Theory, begins with the assumption that we are all in communal relationships—first with our families of origin, and then with all the other people with whom we interact in our work, our churches, and our friends who also have families or origin who impact their reactivity and habits of mind and behavior.
There are patterns of behavior in our families of origin that move from generation to generation—passed on like the frequency of blue eyes, or a preference for chocolate. These patterns are universal—it doesn’t matter where we go—people are impacted by where they came from. What were the dynamics like? When something goes wrong, who is most likely to get the blame? How is conflict handled? Birth order. Marital patterns. Closeness. Estrangement. All these kinds of issues impact not only how we interact (or don’t) with our families. They can also predict how we may react to those around us who push buttons we didn’t know we had.
It is important work. It has kept me focused and sane in some pretty difficult church situations. And it has helped me work toward knowing how to deal with high conflict or anxious situations. But it is hard. Really, really hard. We dig deep. We look at things we don’t want to look at. And we are vulnerable in a way that requires a great deal of trust and safety.
The group with whom I have been working the last two years has decided to continue meeting. There are no more “Tracks,” but we will meet a couple of times a year to continue this life-long work. Because, basically, it works like this—to be a leader, and effective leader, means working on your own stuff. Only when I learn how to deal with my own fears, anxieties, and buttons, am I able to remain the kind of leader who can still listen, still guide, and still function when things go sideways. And things ALWAYS go sideways when we are working with other human beings.
Like other aspects of my spiritual and emotional journey, the work of the center is one that I realize is a work of a lifetime. I look forward to the journey, even as I realize the pain of examining layer after layer of brokenness in my own soul. Most wounds heal better when exposed to light and air.
This week, we have another story of human brokenness. Hagar. She was an outsider. A servant of Sarah and Abraham. She didn’t have a lot of control over her relationships, her life situation, or even her own body. Her story is one that many who have been silenced would recognized as their own. But the beauty of this story, is that God hears her. She wasn’t the “chosen” in the playbook, but she and Ishmael become the beginning of the story for the people of another book. I look forward to our time together on Sunday! Blessings, Pastor Nancy
P.S. This weekend is an important one in many ways—we have the Poor People’s Campaign meeting here at the church on Saturday afternoon—2-4:00 p.m. The Table Talks on Sunday afternoon 2-5:00 p.m. AND Sunday is EARTH DAY! We have much for which to be thankful, and much work to do together. See you soon!