When I was at the front end of my adult life and in the business of acquiring possessions, a wise (older) mentor gave to me a hand-lettered poster that all too quickly I recycled. No matter, the words emblazoned unbidden on my soul. “There are two ways to have enough. One is to acquire greater wealth, the other to acquire fewer needs.”
Having spent the first two decades of my adult years in the quest to gather, I found myself five winters ago ready to begin divesting. The process has at points been liberating, but it is a way that is watered with tears. The very notions of authenticity and simplicity have been shaken to their roots and so that what has and will emerge henceforth is utterly unpredictable. As I sip coffee in the early morning sun I realize that in these five years all else about my life has changed: primary relationships, home, work, friends.
My professional identity and work life were the final piece to which I clung, the piece that I grieve in this circle of the sun. As I packed my office last week, touching each book and saved note card, I was simultaneously reliving each moment shared and also deciding how best to save and honor the memories without filling a new life with old baggage. Ultimately the decision was to leave most of the trappings behind. A few special books, two handmade chasubles, pictures of and by my kids, and a couple of trinkets were packed into three boxes and two bags.
One treasure that I brought home, now hanging in my living room, is a picture stitched by a friend with whom I worked in a church some years ago. “Walk Humbly with thy God” is cross stitched on natural colors with quilt patterns and Amish buggies in the background. Of course the picture carries memories of the dear friend who made it, and the time in my early life that we shared, but too it carries the message of the letters themselves. In the circuitous path of life, my quest has been an earnest (and counterproductive) search for simplicity. As I gaze at the stitching, I have the sense that this friend knew that my heart’s cry is a call to walk humbly at one with the source of life.
There is no greater challenge than that of walking humbly through this life. We humans are skilled in varying measures with shame and pride; the walk of humility, the place between humiliation and hubris, is a rare and precious space. It is to this right-sized place that I aspire, yet simply the act of reaching pushes me from the goal.
As drink is to an alcoholic, words are to a minister: one is too many and a thousand not nearly enough. Though any metaphor can be pressed beyond it’s usefulness, what I came to realize in the last tumultuous year of ministry is that I cannot find serenity, a right-sized place, within ministry. I experience humiliation and hubris alternatively, but the more clarity I have about the call to humility, the more elusive it becomes for me in this particular line of work and identity. I can be (and am, deeply) hurt by the circumstances that charged through this last year of ministry, I can also be (and am, immensely) relieved to be free of the tiger. For though in the best of days I felt as though I had proudly brought the tiger in, these days of pride were always bookended by days licking the wounds from the bloody teeth of the beast.
With my morning coffee, I sit in the window and take stock of where I am today. Five years later, having just now let go of the last desperate cling of the tiger’s tail, I can quickly identify a wide range of human emotions hurtling through my being. Reading the stitching one more time, taking one more sip of coffee, looking out the window at the sweet promise of the sun, I feel a hint of the most elusive of emotions – serenity. Actively acquiring fewer needs, I can begin to feel the promise of enough. To be sure, there will be more tears to shed, but I’ve no doubt they will water the path for amazing blooms.