I once walked in on my VT making plans with an old high school boyfriend to meet secretly in Texas. She was married, but struggling. I was a new convert, with my faith development still in the very black and white stage.
There are two problems with the black and white stage. One is that it gives an illusion of temporal facts rather than spiritual principles, and not everyone has the same understanding or has made the same promises. Another is that worrying about rules more than people is legalism, not compassion. I’m pretty sure the Savior was pretty much a rebel from the rules, and always erred on the side of compassion.
Jesus as “the shepherd” is what teaches us to be “pastoral”. Instead of confronting my friend about the phone call, how could I have instead been more supportive of my friend in her marriage struggle? I don’t mean having affairs are okay, but I do mean she obviously already felt emotionally abandoned, so what good did I do her by abandoning her further? I was a terrible friend, even though I was defending truth. I was not being pastoral in how I delivered truth. It took me a long time to understand that.
There are ways to testify of truth while still showing love.
I did not show her love, and I lost that friend. We had been very close, and I grieved losing her for a long time. I am forever grateful for the lesson I learned, though, because what I thought was “right” really had been so damaging.
People are important, not rules.
Because when we are talking about the laws of covenants, the only ones I am in charge of enforcing are my own. I am responsible for the covenants I have made, not responsible for judging others who have but “sin differently than I do” or for condemning those who haven’t even made those covenants are so are not held accountable for them.
Two years later, I lost another BFF when I verbalized my own personal struggle with her struggles. I was wary of the temptations of things from long ago that she was currently exploring. It felt necessary for me to protect myself by fleeing from the Pharaoh’s wife like Joseph did, and just not even get anywhere near some of that old stuff.
If Nathan were in New York, and had to go out with theater friends who were drinking, he can go and not drink alcohol. It’s not a big deal to him. He just never has, and just doesn’t. I maybe could do it, and would want to think I could do it, but it seems like a foolish dare to take when it is better for me to just stay home. But it doesn’t make Nathan bad for going, and it certainly doesn’t make drinkers “bad” when they haven’t made a covenant not to do so.
Nathan and I have promised not to drink alcohol. He just doesn’t, and picks something else. I choose to not even get that close. I can drink water at home!
That may be the best thing, but I felt convicted when a friend was struggling with her own issues and wanted to explore the difference between her embedded theology and her deliberate theology. Embedded theology has to do with the faith tradition you grow up in, while deliberate theology has to do with growing your own faith – like gaining your own testimony, rather than just relying on what everyone has always told you. Sometimes, developmentally, when people are shifting from embedded theology to deliberate theology, it looks like backsliding or rebellion, even though it’s actually progress. I so wanted to support my friend in this journey, and be present with her, but for me it was true that her exploration would be my rebellion, and I could not go there.
But again, I was not very pastoral about it. Maybe Joseph wasn’t very pastoral when he fled the scene, either. Because sometimes fleeing really is the best thing. So maybe I did the best I could. Well, I know in both situations – with my VT and my friend two years later – I did the best I could, really. But my best wasn’t very helpful to my friends.
I wasn’t pastoral. I was judging their choices instead of focusing on my own, and judging the implications of my supporting them instead of just being a friend. It can be tricksy sometimes. So while it is true there are some things I myself may need to avoid or even flee from in effort to keep my own covenants that I have made myself, it is the Spirit’s role to convict hearts. I have no authority to condemn people.
It’s like being a parent. You can’t nurture your children by shouting at your children until they are compelled into obedience. That only teaches them how to scream while resenting you. If I were to follow the pattern of the Savior, I would be loving them, which would invite them to change.
I think this is one of many reasons I got called to chaplaincy. It isn’t because I was so smart, or so special, or even so spiritual. It was because I was a lousy friend. Chaplaincy taught me about being “pastoral”, and helped me grow in self-awareness about why I struggled with people skills. Or just people, in general, which is pretty ironic since I’m a counselor and all.
Counselors are crazy, most of the time. I’m sure of it. Why else would we be so good at what we do? It’s our language, folks. Crazy.
But when we learn how to be more pastoral, or at least start practicing to get a little better at it each day, relationships improve dramatically. Whether my work with patients, or interacting with people with whom I disagree, or whether getting to know people who are very different from my little world that obviously needs expanding, anyway.
This week I took the children with me to the Owasso High School “Equality Club”, where we presented about the story of our family. We talked about different disabilities, different races, and different backgrounds. Then we listened as they shared about gender issues, orientation issues, disability experiences, and racial tensions. It was super intense, and I took the second graders with me, so we had lots to process after we finished. But I think it was really good for them, and I know they are already better friends to others than I am even now.
But that’s the kind of thing parenting teaches you, how to be a better person and all.
Because as it turns out, you can’t really teach the children anything you aren’t willing to teach yourself.
What? I know!
It’s like Love and Logic for adulting. Yikes.
Because as it turns out, to be friends with others, you have to stop being a frenemy with yourself.
To be friendly toward your children, you have to stop being a frenemy with yourself.
To be pastoral with those around me, I have to really actually truly believe The Lord really is my Shepherd.
It’s a learning curve, you guys.