As I begin the next ministerial transition in my life, defining success often seems to be the topic of conversation, not only within myself, but I heard a great deal of it over the past few days. There are obvious questions that are asked, “So since you did so well here that means you’re going to a larger parish now?” or even “What did you do wrong that their sending you to the city?” or one of my favorites, “We just got you broken in.” I’m still not exactly sure what that means but I’ve heard it quite frequently. I had to bite my tongue many times in conversations to give people their due and allow them to feel the way they feel. I so often wanted to say, “If it was all about breaking me in then somehow I have failed; both needs to change.” But I didn’t. Again, as much as I wanted to, I knew I needed to give people the opportunity to express themselves in whatever way they chose.
Here’s my take, in many ways I can measure “success” by how I’ve changed in the past years at this assignment. Maybe better questions to ask are, “Have I learned to trust myself, others, and God a little bit more?” or “Have I learned to trust my heart a little more than my head over these years?” another, “Have I learned that there’s a lot more that I don’t know than I do?” still more, “Have I learned to let go of things and not take them so personally?” or “Have I gotten to know myself in a deeper way and accepted, warts and all?” and maybe most importantly, “Have I mirrored it to others?”
Needless to say, I will be spending some time with those questions, but if I even can say yes in the most minimal way, then there has been success. I am a firm believer that, as a leader and even more so, a man, that where I am internally will be reflected in my external environment. I dare say that often what is missing in leadership are people that have an internal structure that acts as guide in creating healthy external structures. It goes back to, “You can’t give what you don’t have.”
As I tried to explain where it was that I was transitioning, I often got blank stares. Some didn’t understand. If you were so successful here, why there? I had expected that some would respond in that way. However, for some time now there has been something deep within me that has been stirring, and when I finally made the decision to pay attention to it, reverence it, and acknowledge that it was real, I grew to trust that this was more about God than it was about me. I don’t even know why, but as I said, sometimes it’s learning to accept that I don’t know it all, even if I think I do at times, and trust God’s lead in taking a leap of faith.
I have been quite successful, in many different ways in each of the assignments that I have accepted. There has been a lot to show for it, just in relationship alone. There are structures that have been put in place, vision set, decisions, both difficult and anxiety-filled, that have been made, and I can sit back and say, well done. And that’s all good. And that’s even great, if I must say so myself! But in the end, ah, ok, but is that what’s most important? For me it’s about changing hearts, even my own at times, it’s about growing up, it’s about growing deeper in love with self, others, and especially Mystery, and learning to integrate it all into a healthy me that helps me to lead and create in a healthy way. At the end of the day, at the end of an assignment and transitioning to the next, knowing and accepting things aren’t perfect but I’ve done my best is sufficient, knowing that it’s time to pass the mantle to the next and allow him to take it to the next level; it’s about trust, trust, trust and learning to surrender control.
Transitions are hard for all of us because it means change, grieving, letting go, and once again facing the unknown. But as I mentioned to pastoral council, in the words of Dr. Seuss himself, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I am so thankful that those words crossed my path these days because it becomes a mantra for me. Sure there is room for tears, but I can smile because I had the opportunity and even a little success, both seen and unseen!