by Meredith Gudger-Raines
The first rule of St. Benedict is to stay where you are. It’s a vow of stability, to remain committed to your monastic order. For us non-monastic Christians, it reminds us of the importance of commitment to our families, our communities, our churches, our earth. It teaches us to stay where we are, despite the challenges and frustrations that will come. It presupposes that life will be difficult and that people will be infuriating. (Why are we always surprised by those realities?) Even when people make you want to leave, stick it out. Endure.*
There have been times in my life as a pastor when I’ve wanted to quit. I didn’t quit because, frankly, we needed the income. It was painful to wonder if I’d make a mistake, if I’d misheard my call, to wonder what the purpose of church was, and to consider all that while still preaching faith every Sunday. It was painful, but not worthless. In fact, those experiences were some of the richest of my life. Because I was paid to come back, week after week, I couldn’t quit. And what did I receive for my commitment to stay? A much deeper understanding of God, calling, community, church, the gospel and myself. I trust Jesus more because I didn’t give up when I trusted him less.
I’ve often wondered how I can communicate this experience or invite people to have this same experience. Obviously, we can’t pay everyone to go to church. Our budgets are tight enough as it is! But if only everyone could have that experience of having to stick with it, of not giving up before the good parts start.
During Lent, we are approaching the season of resurrection. Frederick Buechner teaches us that resurrection means that the worst thing is not the last thing. But so often, when the worst happens, we assume it’s the end. We chose poorly, our worst fears are confirmed, everything has ended terribly. Why do we assume that’s the end of the story? Endure through those times of darkness, because the last thing is about to happen, and it will be the best.
*Let us be clear that there are certainly times when leaving is justified and healthy. Clergy, laity and The Church for too long have told women and others to endure abusive relationships, often not taking them seriously, paying lip service to “forgiveness” and “transformation.” God does not want anyone to live in violence. There are some things that are not meant to be endured, but to be left.