Reflections on Leaving – Part 4: Forgiveness

It’s amazing what you find when cleaning out your office: messages, meeting minutes, worship bulletins, things done, things left undone. It is hard to pack and clean up an office when every other piece of paper is an opportunity to stop and reflect on your pastoral ministry.

I pride myself in my hard work. I love being a pastor: preaching, teaching, leading, gathering, sharing good news are the highlights of my pastoral life. I get up every morning thinking about my calling and how to be faithful to its rhythms. Then I find the evidence as I try to pack . . . maybe I did not work hard enough, try enough, take enough risks, maybe I could have done better.

No wonder the short Order of Farewell to a Pastor in the United Methodist Book of Worship includes these words:

I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I have made.
As I leave, I carry with me all that I have learned here.

Admitting our pastoral failures is hard. There were visits forgotten, phone calls not made, classes not taught, sermons not prepared for, and meetings not attended. There were also unkind words said, people ignored, and soap boxes preached. There are signs and symbols of all of these in shreds of paper and notes all over my office. Each of them a reminder that God’s grace is truly sufficient, that in the end the Spirit of God was at work through my humanity.

Then there are those unfulfilled plans and broken dreams. Expectations were high, mine and many others, forgiveness of ourselves is also needed.

Although difficult cleaning out is needed. It helps heal the wounds, however small, of life together. As I throw away, pack, and give away, I am reminded of the landscape that I have walked. Each moment becomes a confession, each moment a prayer, each moment provides a new awareness of God’s grace.

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