Human Wholeness or Exhausting Goodness?

25 09 2010

by Scott Murphy
Council of Twelve Apostles

In her captivating book, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor shares her journey of ordination in the Episcopal Church, becoming pastor of a rural congregation in Georgia, and eventually leaving that position.

As Taylor reflected, she came to recognize a contributing cause in her leaving was that she exhausted the congregation, as well as herself.

That happened because of the busyness and expectations to somehow live up to what it meant to be faithful individually and as a congregation. From her sensed failure came the discovery that her “human wholeness might be more valuable to God than her exhausting goodness.”

Taylor’s insight continues to challenge me about my ministry and what I see in many of our congregations. Community of Christ congregations exist because of the dedication and passion in those who give of themselves week after week for congregational life. They commit many hours to leading, teaching, preaching, planning worship, managing finances, organizing events, and on and on.

I deeply appreciate all that members do for our congregations. Yet, I can’t help wondering, as I hear people talk, how many of us serve out of “exhausting goodness” while neglecting to seek “human wholeness.”

In our good efforts to be active congregations, have we become so inwardly focused that we slowly are starving ourselves of authentic relationships with God and others? Let me suggest that when we intentionally focus on deepening our connection with God and others, our lives become more open to the care and worth of human life.

In this deeper connection we begin to discover the human wholeness that God seeks to bring forth in our lives and all of creation. I believe Doctrine and Covenants 164:9c–d continues to point us toward the way God is calling us to live as disciples and congregations:

This covenant entails sacramental living that respects and reveals God’s presence and reconciling activity in creation. It requires whole-life stewardship dedicated to expanding the church’s restoring ministries, especially those devoted to asserting the worth of persons, protecting the sacredness of creation, and relieving physical and spiritual suffering. If you truly would be Community of Christ, then embody and live the concerns and passion of Christ.

In a time when “time” has become so precious, do we need to rethink how we spend our time in “being” congregations? Is there a yearning in your life and congregation to engage in ministries that seek the welfare and wholeness of human life?

Maybe Taylor is right. Maybe our “human wholeness” is more valuable to God than our “exhausting goodness.” What do you think?



4 responses

1 10 2010

I believe firmly that God calls me to be “whole” as a person in order to be able to be more “wholly” His. At one point in my life I stepped down from a congregational commitment in order to find personal wholeness. I think of the difficult lessons and blessings gained from that experience, and am grateful. However, had everyone else in the congregation stopped what they were doing for similar reasons, my gratitude could easily have been replaced with guilt. Just as we need balance within ourselves, our communities need to find a balance that encourages and lifts people up, rather than using them up to exhaustion. The image of geese flying in V-formation works well for me. Know when it’s time to fall back and rest, and when it’s time to step up and forward – and through it all, keep “flapping” together!

26 09 2010
Leigh Anne

One of the most blessed experiences of my life was to take part in a Spiritual Exercises group that lasted for 9 months. Here we were called to spend an hour a day with God…reading scripture, contemplating it, and journaling about it.

The hardest part for me was giving myself permission to take an hour (a whole hour) out of MY busy day to just SIT with God. I needed to DO things. But slowly I came to realize just how important this time of sacred listening was.

The time with God made me a better listener…something I was very poor at before (and in truth am still working on). I thank God for this opportunity even now.

25 09 2010
William L. Raiser

“Community of Christ congregations exist because of the dedication and passion in those who give of themselves week after week for congregational life.”

Yes, I think too much of our effort is spent on maintaining congregational life. In similar fashion, I think another part of our “too much” effort goes to “doing good” in society. Our societal systems (very much the case in the US) did, do and will produce MANY more “problems” than we can ever attend to. While many “good” works occur as people try to aid those effected by these problems — poverty, hunger, financial crises, illness, lack of education, etc. — the Restoration calls us in more fundamental directions, to create new societal systems where, in large measure, such problems are not created in the first place.

25 09 2010
Cheryl Groh

I couldn’t agree more. Legalism has always hindered the church. We as humans need rules and structure to feel secure. In these times, I believe, God is calling us to move out of our “comfort zones.” He needs us to reach out to a world that we might not always feel comfortable with or understand. He sees the worth of “all”.

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