Embrace the glorious mess that you are. – Elizabeth Gilbert

At the start of this year, our church hosted a visioning workshop. I love visioning, it’s the living it out that’s the tough part. Led by a leadership coach, we were invited to name the ways we envisioned being part of God’s dream for the world, something we had talked a lot about during Advent. As the morning progressed, it got more personal and more specific. We were asked to write our “one word”. That word was to be inscribed on a stone and placed somewhere we’d pay attention to it.
My word was “embrace” and my stone stays in the bottom of my messy purse, where I often find the keys I swear I’ve lost. I may not feel keys when I first start digging, but I inevitably feel that smooth stone reminding me of what I said I’d be and become.

I am a dreamer and an idealist who started a church with all kinds of hopes and expectations. Among other things, I imagined a place of refuge, a safe space, people deeply connected to the real needs of the community, a hub for reimagining the church—I could seriously go on. Did I mention I’m an idealist? These hopes have brought some people our way and have also sent some away. They have been fuel for shaping our life together and have also created false hopes that we (or worse yet, I) can be all things to all people.

Thus, the need to embrace. It’s a strange word to relate to who I want to be and become, but it speaks to my struggle as a pastor, a woman in ministry, and a perpetual work in progress. To embrace means to be fully myself with all of my flaws, gifts, passions and imperfections and be with others in that same way. It means to stop pushing and pulling so hard at every perceived wrong turn, set back or conflict and to patiently listen, wait and even admit when I don’t have an answer (which is much of the time). It means toning down my inner critic. It means being okay with disappointing people.

A week ago on a Sunday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours doing jail visits. One of the people I visited was a twenty-four-year-old young man who’d been convicted of murder. I’ve made jail visits before, but not usually on a Sunday. I was tired when I arrived and wondering why I’d made this commitment during the time I really wanted to be enjoying a nice long afternoon nap. As I was waiting for him to enter our visitation room, my word came to mind. Then, I remembered that I was not there because I have it all together. I was not there to fix or to give advice. I was there to be present. I was there to be myself (hesitations and all) with another weary soul. After a brief introduction, we spent thirty minutes having deep, soulful conversation. Mostly, I just listened as he shared about his life. Before I left, he asked if he could share a rap he’d recently written while in jail. He used the metal table as a beatbox as he sang about his newfound faith. A prison guard walking by did a double take. Before it was over, I closed my eyes and felt the Spirit’s nearness in a way I had not felt in a while.

To “embrace” does not mean to stop having hopes, dreams and expectations. Quite the opposite. It means showing up to notice when and where God is present and how the Spirit is moving, tweaking, calling, disturbing and refining our part in God’s great big scheme of things. I pray for more courage to stop striving to be perfect and instead to be fully present wherever, however & with whomever I find myself.

Susan Rogers is pastor of The Well at Springfield in Jacksonville, Florida.