I’m not going to church this morning. Participating in worship already triggers painful memories of leading worship myself, and of being with other congregations. But this week, I’m more in touch with my grief. And I’m in mourning.
My Lenten practice is making space for the future by disposing of the accoutrements of my past. I’m working on a project – clearing out seminary class notes and articles, paper files from a pastor’s office, and books upon books upon books that made up my pastor’s library.
The first few binders of notes – which I had not opened in YEARS – were hard to get rid of, but ultimately it felt good to let the binders go. Space opened up in my basement, and inside. It was hard to see titles and syllabi from college and seminary classes, yet I reminded myself that perhaps I could remember the good times of being in those classes without schlepping these binders to another state! (They’ve already been to 4 states…)
I was able to get through the first two boxes of paper files quite easily – recycle it all! The couple items I found that felt important, I realized I could find the electronic files another time if necessary. The boxes of knick-knacks and communion sets and things will be harder. Those are farther down the line of boxes to go through. I’m not looking forward to hard decisions about what’s useful to keep and what I need to grieve and let go.
Now the books. The books are the hardest thing for me. I’ve misplaced emotional value on the books when really they represent the future I thought I would have as a pastor. I’m coming to terms with perhaps if my 20’s had been different (diagnosed, for instance), I might never have been a pastor and gone through the formation process and trying to fit myself into a role and job I’m not suited for. So, I’m grieving the hopes and dreams that will never be. And the past that never was. It was not all butterflies and rainbows. I was cramming a square peg into a circular hole, day after day.
Each book off the shelf represents a little bit of the grief. But it’s time to make room for the future by letting this past go. With my therapist, I came up with criteria for discarding of books into one of 4 piles: keep, donate, sell, recycle.
- Does this bring up negative emotional associations?
- Will I use this again?
- Can I get this information online?
- Is this information outdated?
- Do I want to spend the effort to sell it?
Of course, the largest piles should be donate and sell. Some days I can imagine myself getting rid of 90% of my books. Other days, I’m clinging to them. It’s the grief process. Sometimes I can imagine a future, vague though that image may be. Other days, my past is the only thing that defines me. And why would I want to get rid of myself?