A Pastor Looks at 40

I don’t know how many of you have listened to Jimmy Buffett either now or at another point in your life.  I went through a Buffett phase: Margaritaville, Cheeseburgers in Paradise, Come Monday, etc….  One of his songs is called A Pirate Looks at Forty.  While it’s not the most uplifting song, I’m going to use its title as a muse as I reach that milestone age later this month.  What’s it like for a pastor, dad, son, husband, friend, self to reach this milestone?

Self: I guess 40 seems about right.  I still feel young at heart, but I’m certainly finding it harder to keep my body in shape.  The metabolism is not what it once was!  I remember playing tennis with Eric Koenig a year ago, and relaizing I’d lost a step or three.  It’s also certain to say that I’ve had enough experiences in this life to learn a thing or two.  Hopefully, as each year passes, I’m gaining in wisdom, learning from those experiences and maintaining that which adds to the well-being of the world, and shedding that which the world doesn’t need.

Son/brother: Being child 4 out of 4, I am so thankful that my parents are still alive and doing well.  I think I’ve always had the good sense to appreciate them for who they are and for the way they shaped me to be.  I look around and see that this isn’t necessarily the norm, and so I am simply appreciative and try to let them know how much I love them.  Likewise, as I approach 40, I have enjoyed getting to know my brother and sisters as adults.  It’s one thing to be kids growing up with one another (in all of the turbulence that makes up childhood shared in the same house), but it is another thing to get to kow them as spouses and parents, and deep-thinking, mature people of the earth.  Again, I am thankful for my sibs and the kin they’ve added.

Husband: I don’t know which is the wilder number to comprehend–40 years of life or 17 years of marriage?  I certainly remember life before Celinda came along, but it is hard to reach back into those years, and I’m pretty sure that at this point I don’t want to!  Sometimes we talk about how random it can be to discover a mate-for-life.  In some sense, it is remarkable that we remain married, for as little as we knew one another going into it, and with as much life maturing we (I!!) still had to undergo.  And yet here we are, living into our joyfully ever after.  (Come on now, we all know that partnership isn’t always “happy.”  But the joy in this companionship certainly lives!)

Dad:  Anytime someone comes up to me and tells me what nice children I have, I have to say I’m a bit embarrassed.  I happen to agree with them, but even still…..  When I said above that I feel young at heart, I certainly owe a lot to Adrian, Lillian, and Elliot.  They have a knack for drawing it out of me.  And even when my body doesn’t feel like trying to keep up with them, they’ve done a good job and telling me to ignore it and just play.  Again being the broken record (for those of you old enough to get that analogy), I am ever so thankful to be in the posisition to be a father; even as the hair grows white.

Friend:  I’ve found friendship to be an elusive thing.  I mean deep-down-to-the-soul friendship.  There are many people to whom I would give the title as my friend, but only a few with whom I can be fully me…without having to think about it.  Since I’m an Ohio transplant, I only maintain a couple of friends from growing up in Atlanta.  Four years of college, four years of seminary, into life as a “grown-up” haven’t afforded the time it takes to dig in with people and form those abiding ties.  I don’t know if others share this same experience?  And yet, there have been so many blessed short-stinited acquaintences that have made my life so abundant I can’t even begin to number–or (unfortunately) remember–them all.

Pastor:  Talk about elusive.  How does one know they are being an effective pastor?  So many measuring sticks: preaching and liturgy that reaches hearts, teaching that fosters spiritual formation, human rights advocacy that makes a difference, pastoral care that meets people’s needs, intellectual acumen, presence at important church and civil meetings, an active member in the presbytery, shepherding the church into a reshaping culture, introducing the gospel in relevant ways to folks longing to hear it, profound writings in newsletters 🙂 .   As I reach year 40, and year 12 of my ordination, these questions run through my head.  I’m not sure that there will ever be a point at which I’ll discern definitive answers.  I trust that as my own spiritual formation matures, and as my vocational calling evolves,  I will grow in greater wisdom regarding how to serve with you in our common calling.

What ties all of these things together?  God has made me as God has made me–gifts and gaffes, all.  And yet, God did not make me to go throguh this life alone.  In this reflection, I’ve born witness to the importance of my community of support.  It has been the sum of people (and a dog or cat along the way) being there to urge, comfort, challenge, accompany, lead, follow, forgive, and share the way with me.  If there is to be wisdom to be found in this writing may it be the wisdom that each of us needs the other; whether friend or stranger, Christian or agnostic, American or Iraqi, body-enabled or body-challenged, and everywhere around and in-between these places.

My prayer, my birthday wish, is that I will live into this wisdom; even in the midst of the cultural biases and privileges that also make me who I am.   And I pray that I will show you and those who will never read these words that I am thankful for the opportunity to live this life right here, right now, and that I will do so, in the promising words of Jesus Christ, abundantly.  I’ll close this missive with the words of the U2 song, appropriately named “40” (as in, Psalm 40):

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of my miry clay.
I will sing a new song,
How long to sing this song?
He set my feet upon a rock,
and made my footsteps heard.
Many will see,
Many will see and fear.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?

Birthday blessings with you.  Francis

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