Although the practice of summers off for those in education is mostly a myth, I do enjoy more of a flexible schedule to spend some time with my family in between planning for the upcoming academic year. I remind myself that this is a privilege when the days seem long and full of meltdowns and cries of boredom.
With the change in pace and responsibilities, I've been thinking about how I measure my job satisfaction. It's different when there are no activities to evaluate how I'm spending my time. It isn't in how many tasks I complete or how many people I encounter. The planning is a mostly solitary endeavor (or hopefully a joint work with God), and the timing is based on inspiration (or procrastination). Lately I've realized that the most fulfilling days center around being present with others and sharing in their stories. It is the premarital counseling sessions before a wedding, the random conversation with a student, and the lunch with a friend that bring energy even to my introverted self. There is something holy about hearing someone else's story, and a sacredness in finding connections between their story and yours. We are made to be in community, however much we may resist it as we strive to be individuals. It's the commonalities of our stories, the places where we find that others share in our passions and experiences, that help us to realize that we are not alone. In a world that is often isolating, it is freeing to break down the barriers and understand that we are on the same side.
I've heard it said that the most helpful thing someone can say is "me too".
|image from: http://abeautifulmess.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/11/modern-wall-art-with-paint-swatches.html|
In ministry and life, I've come to understand that we share much more in common than the differences that separate us. We highlight our differences as it is so much easier to keep people at a distance (and decrease our risk of being hurt) by thinking of them as the "other". But we have the same blood giving us life, and the same wants, needs, and fears driving us.
There's another side of this that I'm just starting to learn. We all share stories, and our stories may overlap, leading us to find community and commonality. But that isn't to say that our stories are the same.
My stories aren't your stories, and your stories aren't mine.
Just because I've been through loss doesn't mean that I know your loss (although I hope it does give me more empathy to what you may be feeling). My experience as a mother is similar and yet different than the other mothers I know. Although I feel the most connected and affirmed when we can share our "me too" stories, I shouldn't presume to understand the trials and beauties of your life (although I hope I will be more open to hearing your experiences). As a result, I shouldn't think my way of parenting is any higher or better than yours (and I will freely tell you about my many failures as a parent). I hope you'll extend me the same grace.
Likewise, we each have different gifts that serve us in our individual and communal stories. I have wasted much time wishing for stories, gifts, and experiences that are not mine to live. As much as I would like to be Jen Hatmaker, I'm not. We are both women in ministry (with all its joys and struggles) and we are both mothers (with diverging joys and struggles). I love reading her blog and books because I can relate (you're the worst end of school mom ever? Me too!). But we have unique stories to share out of the distinctive gifts we were given.
I have been created to live out my specific story (with its conflicts and hopeful resolutions). At times my story will intersect with yours as our commonalities join us in the community of "me too". I hope, too, that we can learn from our diverging stories, seeing our inconsistencies as gifts to be shared so that we can learn and grow together. I pray that in the times we feel alone that there will be someone to draw us back into the circle that grows ever wider until no one who seeks to be included is left out. May we feel part of the oneness of the greater story while also recognizing our singular gifts.
As we think about and share our stories, may we celebrate who we were uniquely and wonderfully created to be, shaped by our Creator, and supported by the many other characters in our lives whose stories have inspired us.
When it comes down to it, I'm just Jenny from the block (and not Jenny as in JLo, although I'll let her speak for both of us given our similar stories...ha!)