It’s one of those memories that gets etched into your memory, totally against your will. I was a baby-pastor, not a pastor of babies, just a ridiculously young pastor, a few months away from taking my ordination vows.
A conflict in our first parish kept boiling over. We tended to the pot repeatedly, thinking for sure this time we had made progress.
Tommy and I went away for a few days to Branson for a Pastor and Spouse retreat, or Pastor and Pastor retreat in our case. Branson was not exactly our idea of a good time, but being with our pastoral peers was, so we went. As hard as I tried to focus on the relationships around me, on the restorative preaching, on the amazing food, and beautiful views, my heart felt achy, or “itchy” as I like to call it. Unsettled. I wanted resolution of the conflict back home, total resolution with no remainder. Maybe one more email, one more phone call, one more uncomfortable confrontation with all parties involved. Maybe after this meeting…
I was still in seminary, almost done with my MDiv. I was in a class on Spiritual Direction and I was not enjoying it. The professor was gifted and articulate and most certainly an expert in the field, but I was uncomfortable. I liked the rigor and academic challenge of the NT courses, the intellectual demands of the theology classes that were just a smidge over my head but if I kicked hard enough, I could stay alive. But this, no. This was not my scene. Ethereal, nebulous conversations about spirituality, no content to master. Pass. But it was required. So there’s always that.
We had been reading writings from various spiritual giants and try as I might, I could not connect to them and their words, like the words of the 12th century monk Baldwin of Ford who declared that, “Jesus is sweet in the mouth, sweet in the heart, sweet in love, he is the love of sweetness and the sweetness of love…” What? Stop, you’re giving me diabetes.
But as I stood in our fancy hotel room in Branson, feeling my heart race with thoughts of all that was brewing back home in our parish, against my will a quote from my reading came to my mind, from St. Julian of Norwich who once said,
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
St. Julian wrote these words not in the midst of an ancient church conflict but during a period in which she was confronted by the horrors of sin and their consequences. Her heart was deeply grieved, but in the midst of her suffering Jesus came to her and spoke these words of comfort.
At first glance, the strange repetitive phrase seems like a thick gloss attempting to cover a deep wound, a phrase thrown around carelessly when something is hard and we want to say something spiritual to soften the hurt. But no. All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well, because of Jesus.
In the midst of conflict, Jesus.
In the midst of sin and its consequences, Jesus.
In the midst of disappointment, Jesus.
In the midst of fear, Jesus.
In the midst of scarcity, Jesus.
Constant, present, persistent, faithful, working for the good, Savior not from trouble, but in trouble, Redeemer of broken things, Healer of all hurts, Deliverer from all trials even raging egos and bruised pride and anxious hearts.
In that moment in that Branson hotel room, I experienced a precious peace, so very foreign to my anxious heart, peace rooted not in the promise of resolution, but the promise of Jesus, and the promise of a coming Kingdom. It did not fix the problem, but it re-oriented my heart.
I am not a baby-pastor anymore. I’m grizzled old veteran of 9 years. (Yes, lol is fine.) But I still need the words of St. Julian. As I pastor a congregation in a military town and grieve the regular transition of families out of our church, as I worry myself sick about ebbing and flowing attendance and finances, as I wonder if this time scarcity will rule the day and abundance will be shuttled off to some more deserving, more faithful pastor, I need these words. I need to be reminded that All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, not because I am competent. Not because hard things won’t make their way into my heart, my home, my parish. Not because the next shiny church growth method will solve all our problems, but because in Jesus, every one of God’s promises are a “Yes!” Promises of hope, of restoration, of forgiveness, of transformation (in me!), redemption, and peace. All “Yes!” in Jesus.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
And so they shall.