Monday, April 6, 2009

the one's I've failed

I've been an Episcopal priest for nearly 35 years. And want to know what I remember most? It's not the wondrous success stories and fabulous positive events of all those years--and, lucky for me (or, "blessed am I") there are lots of those. Lots. But I have a hard time holding them in my mind.

No, what I remember are the people I have somehow failed. They haunt my memories and thoughts and reflections and attempts to put this 'career' of mine in some perspective.

But whenever I look back--or just look at where I am now--it is the ones I've somehow failed, people who have left the church for one reason or another or those who defect in place, not leaving but having some enormous cloud of unhappiness surrounding them...those are the ones I remember.

Now, there is this: by temperament and choice, I take very little 'personally'. A dear, dear friend of mine once told me (perhaps the best compliment of my life...) "You either have NO EGO or your Ego is as big as Montana. Unfortunately--mostly for them--my immediate family, my wife of almost 39 years (is that possible???) and my two grown children CAN hurt my feelings. Perhaps my ego dissipates in the face of my raw and vulnerable love of them. They, I think, consider me 'sensitive' though almost no one else does, or, if they do, they are way off the mark.

I learned long ago the wisdom of the educational philospher Piaget that no one can "make" me unhappy, guilty, angry, happy, confused, etc., etc. Piaget teaches parents to say to their children: "I get angry when you do that." How clear is that? It leaves the child responsible for their action but not for the feeling it causes. Each person is responsible for their actions and their feelings and the information is conveyed about what actions illicit the feelings in the other.

"I get angry when you ignor me," is so much cleaner than "You make me angry when you ignor me." I am responsible for my response to the 'other'. The 'other' is responsible for what s/he does." You aren't responsible for my reactions, only for your actions--and the same goes for me. Once the communication is given, we both have a choice--I can choose not to be angry when ignored and the other can be responsible for whether or not to ignor me--and the other way around.

What really kills me is this: the ones I've failed--the ones who leave for whatever reason--seldom share with me what action on my part resulted in the feeling on their part. I have no way to either adjust my actions or to continue to act in that way, knowing what they feel when I act that way. I can control my actions when I wish to, but I cannot control other people's reactions to my actions. When I'm not given the choice to either alter my actions...or continue them...either way knowing full well what they feel when I DO that...then I am lost.

I told someone today that I have a very high threshold of 'guilt'. I'm always interested in the amount of 'guilt' people carry around with them, about all sorts of meaningless or seemingly meaningless actions or thoughts. I feel very little guilt. As the one who designs the liturgies of the church I normally, if possible, avoid the general confession. I think we all grovel too much and feel guilt over stuff that is relatively benign. We up the ante in Lent and such times. However, mostly, I don't feel the need to confess too much.

But when it comes to the ones I've somehow failed, I am full of's just mostly I don't know 'what' exactly to confess since I often am never told what it was I did, left undone, messed up, forgot about, etc. Often it just ends and I am left feeling, not so much guilty as confused.

The problem is, I suppose I don't provide a wide enough and hospitable enough space for people to tell me why they're leaving. It's not that I'd 'fix it', but I would like to know. It feels lonely and confusing when people leave.

Plus, I miss them madly.

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.