Working harder may not be the answer

  • Saturday, August 10, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

You want me to answer my emails.” A smattering of laughter and applause echoed through the hotel conference room. My boss, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, took a few minutes to respond to questions or concerns from church leaders in Oregon and Idaho at a recent gathering. I leaned in, very curious to hear how she might answer this statement.

She continued, “I want you to know when I opened my email this morning, I had 89 new messages since last night. I want to answer your emails. And I want to answer the physical mail that you send me. And I know every week that things fall through the cracks. And I know that the solution to our dilemma is not going to be that the bishop works harder.” Cue tentative and confused applause.

Stanovsky continued, “That’s a confession. I give you my heart and I give you way more of my life than I should, honestly… I don’t think we have a model that works for bishops in three conferences over four states with 440 churches. I’m doing my best but I’m not going to quit disappointing.”

Some may have thought it a mundane exchange between a frustrated constituent and their leader. But it was far more than that. “The answer is not for me to work harder.”

This is culture shift in one sentence. This is sacred resistance. This is a refusal to let a broken and ineffective system call the shots. This is holy. When something is broken or overwhelming or the work is piling up, our first inclination is often to double down. We push up our sleeves. We summon a new wave of focused grit so we can power through the obstacle in front of us. Sometimes, that’s the best answer. But more often, it’s not. The answer is not for me to work harder. What happens if an exhausted parent whispers this? A burned-out executive? A stressed-out student? What if you’re being invited to bring the entire unsustainable culture to a screeching halt? You can do that, by the way. You have permission to question it all. Why do we do this? How did it get like this? Could this be different? The answer is not for me to work harder.

When we cooperate with Love, instead of our hustle culture, Love can do far more in, through and with us. May we not give our lives to maintaining unhealthy, unjust and broken ways of being because “that’s just how it is.” It doesn’t have to be that way. I wish you courage to question the cultures you move in. May you show up scared. Even if your voice wobbles and your knees shake. Ask the questions rumbling in your being. Freedom is waiting. Love hopes you’ll speak.

Jenny Smith is pastor of Marysville United Methodist Church. Her faith column runs monthly in this newspaper.

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