A busy day

As I woke this morning I did my usual mental exercise of going through the day ahead and thinking about the highlights. I have a meeting in the morning, a funeral in the early afternoon and a late afternoon budget session with our church’s Department of Stewardship and Budget. Thee meeting is routine. There was a time when every budget session caused me considerable anxiety. After all my salary is a big part of the church’s budget. I care about the entire budget of the church. Sometimes numbers budgeted for programs cause me more alarm than those for my salary. That is true of other people who work at the church as well. They work for the church because they believe in its mission, when that mission seems to be threatened, it can be very upsetting to them. Program items in the budget are relatively small. You can’t make substantive cuts or balance the budget on the back of the programs of the church. Our budget is driven by salaries and the costs of owning and maintaining a building, most notably by energy costs. Some people, when approaching the church budget see these areas as fixed expenses and program as the only part of the budget over which there is discretion. And I’ve been in enough church meetings to know that very little time is spent on the income side of the budget. People are good at basic math. They can see that expenses and income need to match, but they rarely think that the solution to an out of balance budget is to figure out how to increase income. They don’t like asking others for money. They don’t want to have to think about their own giving too closely. This is true even in a congregation like ours where we are very laid back about soliciting pledges and donations. We haven’t begun to tap the deep generosity of our congregation. Still I will need to be prepared to defend small programs and mission projects that are in our annual budget.

So you can tell I’m uptight about the budget meeting. I may be a bit more relaxed than was the case earlier in my career, but every budget meeting makes me a bit nervous. Having said that, however, the truth is that our congregation has a very capable and caring team working on the budget. They are not going to sabotage the ministries of the church. They could be left alone - I could be called away from participating in the meeting - and the results would be in the best interests of the church. I know in my mind that I can trust the people and the process. Still a bit of anxiety remains.

But I don’t have room for that anxiety today and I need to lay it aside. “Consider the lilies of the field.” Set aside your worries. It is frequent advice from Jesus and much needed in my day.

I am nervous about every funeral. And I should be. For the grieving family it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every word I say is important. They deserve my focused attention and the best I have to offer. No matter what was going through my mind as I woke this morning, there are four children with their families and a widow who have already or soon will awake with one thought - today is the day of our father’s funeral. Life can never return to the way it was for them. As confident as they are about his personal faith, as trusting as they are in the power of resurrection, as deep is their gratitude and no matter how few regrets they have, today is still a major tuning point in their lives. The love, care and nurture of the church that surrounds them is critical.

Funerals are exhausting for me. When we finally get to the moments of saying good bye to the family, I’m ready for a nap. I know from experience, however, that they are even more exhausting for the grieving family. They have been wrestling with their emotions all day long. They have been greeting friends and listening to tributes to their loved ones. Grief takes a lot of energy and it leaves you very tired. I, who am generously supported by the congregation to be available to the family, have nothing about which to complain. Of course funerals are hard work and I have the privilege of having been given work that is not only hard, but also filled with purpose. My work is meaningful and worth of my time. That makes me a very fortunate person. There are those whose work is not the center of their meaning. It is something they do to earn income, but not what is most meaningful to them.

I am aware, however, that I need to have a balance of focus and of big picture. Today’s service is a very important part of the lives of those whom I serve, but it is not the whole picture. After the funeral they will go off to their homes in other parts of the country and return to lives that are complex and challenging. This day is not the only day. It is not even the only day of grief. It is one of many days - part of a lifetime filled with decisions and challenges and events that are important.

While officiating at a funeral requires intense focus, my role in the community requires that I keep the big picture in mind. I need to remember that yesterday I met with two individuals who show great promise as they move toward official recognized ministry in the church. I need to support and nurture their leadership. I have members of my community in the hospital and in nursing homes that need my attention and care. There is a couple to whom I wanted to take communion this week, and that has been put off to next week. They also need my care. The list goes on and on.

So thank you, God for allowing me to wake this morning and to have a day filled with purpose. Bless me with courage and stamina, focus and vision. And, if possible, grant me the humility to understand that this day is not about me. Give your love and grace to the people I serve.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!