Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Pondering Faithfulness

I have been a little haunted by my comment in my last posting about feeling like a Machine, a formidable Deadline Meeter! After writing that (a true enough expression of my experience at the time), I found myself thinking back to an earlier posting when I was just starting to feel the structures of the System clamping down on me. I stepped into that with a prayer, fully aware that life would get demanding, but knowing too that my acceptance of this was what I needed to do in order to follow through in my work with effectiveness. I had to trust that I had set up my commitments well, and that if I could just hold up under the pressure of it all, the end result would be the beneficial changes that I had hoped to effect.

Now I emerge, bedraggled, from the other side. It was an endurance test. I did survive. It's no wonder I'm exhausted now, and, in my exhausted state, ambivalent about the personal cost.

So I have to come back to the question of faithfulness. If I've been truly faithful, I shouldn't worry about the cost. But my worrying about the cost is my way of testing my leading, now in retrospect. Was I faithful? Was what I did done in faithfulness?

What I can see is this: I survived; the things that needed to get done got done pretty well, and so I was effective enough. (One big project remains -- the upcoming conference -- and so this is not yet a complete tally.)

But was I faithful?

Even just yesterday, I would have expressed some doubt. You can see some of that doubt seeping through in my most recent postings.

But today I begin to see things differently.

Certainly I have tried to be faithful.

But what is true faithfulness? (Is trying enough?)

The doubts I've had really arise because my life is not really moving in the direction I would wish, but today I begin to wonder whether my own plan is a very good one after all. Which is the voice of God: is it expressed through the people and events that materialize in my life every day, or is it expressed through my unhappiness when those requests or events bring me anxiety or pain or fatigue?

Is my true destiny what actually happens in my life, and are the "could have beens" just fantasies? Or does being faithful require my being more assertive than I yet have been at not letting life force me in a direction too very different from the one I would like my life to take?

Is God speaking through the actualities I contend with, or the potentialities I feel stirring in my soul? (Or some mixture of the two -- but if so, which dimensions of each, then?)

Or another way of thinking about faithfulness: in this earlier posting, I wondered how much one's level of awareness and state of being matters when upholding prior commitments. Here's what I wrote then:

If I’ve set things up well in my life, then I can trust that the flow of my work will unfold in a beneficial way, for me and for those whose lives are affected by my work.

Does my attitude or state of being at every moment matter? If at times I am stressed, anxious, tired, or hurried as I do my work, is my accomplishment therefore diminished? Or is it okay that my state of being isn’t always calm, collected, and centered?

Quakers are rightfully dubious about ritual, worried that when certain patterns of behavior become habitual, our participating in them can become rote and mechanical. Over time, such rituals can lose their meaning. Or at least our sense of their meaning can fade.

And so my follow-up question here is: is the loss of a sense of meaning also a loss of faithfulness? (At the moment I think not. I definitely have had moments of losing that sense, but still think it was right for me to follow through -- in faith! Or am I just rationalizing?)

In asking these pointed and difficult questions, I overemphasize what has been hard for me lately. It is important for me to point out that underneath all of this is a sense that my life is on the right track, and moving in an important direction.

Up close, a meaningful life has its difficult moments. My readers unfortunately see this close-up grappling with what is most difficult, without any sense of what my life looks like wholistically from the outside to put it into context.

In fact, I have trouble seeing what my life looks like wholistically from the outside!

Finally, I want to confess also to being haunted by Richard M's last question to me (that I still have not answered): what is the role of my Meeting as I discern these kinds of questions?

It is such an obvious question that I was taken by surprise by how surprised I was by his question!

I love my Meeting, and yet Richard's question revealed to me how little I have been sharing with my Meeting about what's really hard for me in life. Maybe I could ask my Meeting to help me with my discernment. Yet, how exactly would I focus my questions? What, at heart, am I trying to discern in my life?

Today I feel something new suddenly shifting and turning. I really am just emerging from a hard and demanding year. It's normal to be tired. Being tired does not necessarily mean that anything is wrong.

What if I just accept, and trust? What if I just let myself rest?

I offer more questions than answers, but these feel like good questions: questions through which I can find my way forward.


  1. CS,

    In some places clearness committees are reserved for BIG events in people's lives. They are formed when individuals try to discern if they should formally declare membership in the meeting or if they should marry their current significant other. I think it's a mistake to use clearness committees only for such issues. As for focusing the question that's part of the clearness committee's job: to help you focus the question.

    Here's a couple of ideas I'd throw out if I were part of your clearness committee. Have you thought about the difference between being faithful to the leading as you perceive it to be and more clearly discerning what you take the leading to be? One can be perfectly faithful while being more than a little confused. Have you considered the possibility that some of the things people are asking you to do are part of your leading while others are not? There is a difference between the call to service and a desire for approval from other people, yet one can blend into the other almost imperceptibly. Would consciously making more time to try to become centered in the midst of daily pressures and distractions help to keep these two things more distinct?

    Quaker tradition and practice contains a lot of great old machinery. It works surprisingly well when we haul it out of the attic, oil it up, and turn the crank.

  2. Thank you again, Richard M! I like your questions very much and am mulling over them.

  3. If a full-blown clearness committee seems too formal or something that your monthly meeting isn't ready for, then consider doing this less formally. Identify one or more weighty Friends in your MM and invite them for coffee or breakfast after worship and open the issue for their serious and prayerful consideration.

  4. One thing I have learned in my own journey and experience with faithfulness is that sometimes there are ripples that go out and seeds that are planted as a result of our faithfulness that we will never know of.

    I wonder if some of your doubt comes from not seeing any immediate effect from the work and service you have already accomplished...?

    Regarding Richard M's comments about clearness committees: my meeting uses clearness committees for any number of things, not just membership and marriage. In my own case, I requested a clearness cmte--I called it a discernment cmte--at a time when I knew I was living with questions but I didn't know exactly what the questions were!

    It sounds like you are doing your best to be faithful, and that is a fine thing.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  5. Thank you Liz for your encouragement, questions, and suggestions!

    I have been trying lately to share with my Meeting more of what is going on in my life. I realized that I had gotten into a pattern of waiting for people to ask -- but even so, sometimes having little time to share fully. (We have potluck after Meeting every Sunday, and we suddenly turn from being a rather quiet group to becoming quite an excited and talkative group over our shared meal!)

    But I remembered that a friend of mine once defined a "friend" as "someone you share with, without waiting to be asked."

    I like it when my friends do this -- come bursting forth to share with me something important that is going on in their lives before I even have a chance to ask!

    So, why not realize that it is an act of trust and love for me to do this more towards my friends, and Friends?