We all have those books . . . the ones we return to over and over again. One of mine is To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it every spring, and as I write this blog, my tattered paperback copy of Harper Lee’s classic is on my nightstand waiting for its 2017 reading.
Another book I return to with great frequency is Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey toward an Undivided Life. It has been a life-changing book, helping me to sort through my hardest questions about ministry and my personal identity. In his small book, Palmer addresses the big topic of our human tendency to live divided lives, lives in which our souls somehow are detached from our roles. He contends that we often hide our true identities from each other, even from ourselves, and as a result, “we become separated from our own souls.”
Palmer’s analysis is true for so many of us, but I think his words are especially true for ministers, and even more especially true for women ministers.
Even though great strides have been made toward parity in ministry, women are still in the minority. Church staffs continue to be dominated by men. Even today, women often make tremendous sacrifices in order to find places in which to serve, and once called by a church, women typically have to work much harder than their male counterparts to sustain their ministry positions. As a result, women sacrifice part of their souls in order to keep the peace. Women ministers all too frequently find themselves silencing their voices, keeping their views to themselves.
Palmer describes this divided life as one in which “we hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge, and change; we conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned, or attacked.”
Every time I read these words in A Hidden Wholeness, I wonder if Parker Palmer has been leafing through my journals or eavesdropping on my prayers for I have spent far too much of my life hiding, avoiding, concealing. I have held back, sat quietly, not interrupted, let things slide. I have not made waves or stirred up trouble. I have gone along, made it work. All that hiding, avoiding, and concealing leaves me feeling divided. Some days I wake up and wonder how I ended up with my identity so disconnected from my daily reality.
Perhaps the reason I return so often to Palmer’s book is not because he diagnoses my life condition so well, but because he offers hope that I can rejoin my soul and my role! In his wisdom, he proclaims that embracing the challenge of wholeness requires “trustworthy relationships, tenacious communities of support.” This is where he sings my song, preaches my sermon. At the very core of what I believe most strongly about ministry, especially about women in ministry, is that we cannot do it alone. We need each other. We need communities of support. We need friends and colleagues, families and parishioners to walk this journey with us.
What I have found to be most true for me is that I need friends who will call me out, who will ask me the hard questions, who will name my weaknesses, confront my sins, and address my deficiencies. I need friends who also will call out my giftedness, who will tell me the truth about my areas of strength, who will push me toward grace and call on me to forgive myself. I need friends who will dream with me, see my possibilities, and imagine with me what my life might look like, how it could all turn out. I need friends who will pray with me and for me. I need friends who help me in the reconnecting my soul with my role.
Because I am beyond blessed, I have a small circle of friends who have been for me “tenacious communities of support” and who have helped me in my never-ending journey toward wholeness. In your own journey, may you too be blessed with trustworthy friends who share your joy and sadness and who remind you often that you are not alone. May you have companions who encourage you toward wholeness.
Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.