(Sorry, bit of a rant...)
"You could..." "Why don't you..."
"Please don't give up! What you do is so significant. People all over the world need this kind of help."
I heard these words, again, last night, from a ministry partner we trained in January. He wants to see our ethnography models get into the hands of more and more people, especially in the non-Western world. This is great; he's actually doing it, taking a non-Western team in to do near-neighbor research - it may make a significant difference in their effectiveness. And approaching a new culture with a learner's perspective, it's just so right!
So why do I cringe so at their words of encouragement? I think something in me interprets them not as "You're great," "You're doing great work," or "This is helping us and we want others to be blessed," or "We want to see you succeed," but as "You need to work harder," "You're not ambitious enough," and "Here's something else for your to-do list, get right on it."
This interpretation may partly right, partly wrong. It may be rooted in some deeper personal issues. But even on the surface it is not really surprising. I'm still in the same business as I have been for years, but with a much smaller team, so setting expectations is tricky; we inherit a mantle that's far too big. People don't know when they make suggestions that there's nobody for me to pass them along to - that often the only way for what they suggest to happen is for me to be the one to run with it.
It's also been tough to inherit so many files and not know what's in them, to be the one left holding down the fort and not being confident I know much about what's there. In recent years I felt I had to stay out of the loop on a lot of things. Me pulling back was necessarily - isn't it better to let other people shine, to stay out of their way, to pick a few things and try to do them well and not have my fingers in everything?
But now I have to field the questions, sort out the advice, evaluate the opportunities. It's not the first time this has happened and maybe not the worst. What about in the late 90's when our research department closed down and I was the only one left to re-open it, with far less experience than I have now?
Maybe it's because I did that effectively, and because I'm a quick study and good at picking things up and make sense of them - I'm clever - that even when we had a big, full team they often treated me like I was Mary Poppins, the omni-competent expert, in spite of ample evidence, I felt, of how many things I didn't know anything about or was really bad at. I'm not sure what it is about me that sends out those kind of vibes, that makes people think I'm particularly intelligent, organized, etc. I just feel misunderstood and deeply alone when people talk about me (or to me) like that.
I don't want that kind of responsibility - unless, of course, God himself is giving it to me, in which case he also provides the power and wisdom to accomplish it. Yes?
I told the couple I was talking to last night that I didn't know what I could do, but I also told them about E. in SE Asia who is a brilliant ethnographer and very effective cross-cultural trainer - about S. in Indiana, highly experienced and accessible, glad and able to help most anyone - about K. and B. on the other side of the pond, who could do anything I could do and maybe more (I miss K. SO MUCH!), if ethnography training is on their priority list.
Ah, priorities. Maybe that's the unresolved question that stirs up my hurt, anger, defensiveness, guilt, shame - I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, what's in my realm of God-given responsibility and what's outside of it. What am I committed to? Called to?
Getting the same kinds of words in my personal life, by the way. Today a perfect stranger who took me to lunch pushed on some of those same I-can't-do-it-all wounds, and responded with compassion, "You really need to find a prayer partner..." "Isn't there someone you could talk to?" Ah, more things I ought to do! I am so tired of advice!
Dear Jesus, please be the one writing my schedule!
See also: Filing Cabinets, October 2007