“I’ve tried. You know I’ve tried. For the past few years I’ve tried everything I could think of and now I’m ashamed to admit that I think the situation is hopeless. There isn’t anything left for me to do except admit it’s hopeless.”
My spiritual director leaned in, smiled, and said, “I’ve been waiting a long time for you to realize this is a hopeless situation. Now that you have, we can finally get somewhere.”
Christians are Easter people. We believe in resurrection. We believe in new life. We are, at least ideally, a hope-filled people.
This is one of my favourite things about being a Christian, but our hopeful nature also has a dark side: we don’t know how to let things die. And sometimes things are supposed to die.
If you’re wondering about the specifics of the story I opened the article with, the truth is, this has happened to me over and over again. I have tried to keep relationships, individual programs, and entire churches open when I should have been helping them have a dignified death. I’m not good at endings, but I’m trying to learn.
In Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud asks:
“Why endings? Whether we like it or not, endings are a part of life. They are woven into the fabric of life itself, both when it goes well, and when it doesn’t. On the good side of life, for us to ever get to a new level, a new tomorrow, or a next step, something has to end. Life has seasons, stages, and phases. For there to be anything new, old things always have to end, and we have to let go of them…. good cannot begin until bad ends.”
Good cannot begin until bad ends. That was what my spiritual director was trying to teach me. I’m a natural problem solver and find it easy to come up with endless options to tweak and improve something rather than letting it die. Sometimes this skill is a real gift and I can help things that are filled with life continue to grow, but sometimes it means I create the appearance of life where there is no life at all.
I can spend years pretending that something that is already dead is still alive. When things start to smell, I try a different perfume. I try and I try and I try.
It never works.
Eventually I run out of ideas and energy. When I know that I have exhausted every option, when I sit with a wise guide who knows me and has been following my story, I can sometimes get a glimpse of clarity. I can see that the dead thing is, in fact, dead.
Once I am finally willing to admit the situation is hopeless, once I am honest, I need time to grieve. Grief makes people uncomfortable and they prefer to see that I’ve bounced back and “landed on my feet,” but it’s an essential part of the process. I do not invest large amounts of time and energy into things unless I love them. When they die, I need time, lots of time, to mourn.
Eventually I also need a place to put all the time and energy I had been pouring into the hopeless case. When I am ready to do that, I am usually surprised by just how many beautiful and hope-filled things have been there all along, waiting for me to notice them.
And that’s when I have to admit a hard truth. I hadn’t been living as a hope-filled Easter person with faith in the impossible. I’d incorrectly diagnosed the situation and I’d been deceiving myself. And I’d been wasting my time. I’d been so focused on trying to resurrect a hopeless situation that I had missed the hope-filled ones. I’d been stuck in the bad and it prevented me from seeing all the good.
It’s a weird time to be a part of the Anglican Church. Some things are ending. Gone are the days when we could assume that people would know what we mean when we make casual references to stories from our Scriptures, would look to us at key times in their lives to help them walk through major milestones like the birth of a child or the death of a loved one. Gone are the days when we could expect our church buildings would be filled to capacity on Sunday mornings.
And other things are changing, some happening so fast it can be hard to keep up. As I type this, we’re trying to figure out how to shift our services online because of COVID-19. Some of these changes will be temporary, but I suspect online services will become more common even after this disease has been eradicated. While I believe we will always long to meet together and worship face to face, this crisis has shown us that meeting online is not only doable, but valuable. Online worship is valuable in times of crisis, for people who can’t easily leave their homes or to create a sense of community in dioceses that cover a huge geographic footprint. Something new is growing, and it fills me with hope.
It’s a weird time to be a part of the Anglican Church, but I think it’s an infinitely hopeful time. If we can use our God-given discernment to diagnose correctly the hopeless situations and the hope-filled ones, we can begin to shift our energy to the sources of new life and growth that are bubbling up all around us. If we can correctly diagnose hopeless situations and stop pouring time and other resources into them, then we will be surprised by the abundance we have to use towards new life and growth.
Discerning what things need to die and letting them die is hard. People need to be given legitimate space to grieve and honestly express their feelings. They need to be reminded that death is normal and they are not failures. Ultimately, we all win when we take the courageous step of trading in the bad for the good.
Rachel Twigg Boyce is the Vicar of saint benedict’s table. You can find her there, at her website, or on social media as “Rev Rachel.”