2014 and 2015 marked a season of major change and transition in my family’s life. In August of 2014, I began commuting from Birmingham to Atlanta during the week for my new job so that my wife, Jessica, who was seven months pregnant, could finish her semester of graduate work at UAB. In September, we found a place to rent in Atlanta, sold our home in Birmingham, and moved all or our belongings. A few weeks later, on October 25th, our first child, Maggie, was born in Birmingham. A week after that, Jessica, Maggie, and I drove to our new home in Atlanta. Settling in was difficult. Not only did we have our first child and my new job, but Jessica had to commute to Birmingham once a week in order to complete her master’s degree. Meanwhile, we hopped around looking for a church to attend, stayed up at night with a crying baby, and rarely found time to make new friends or get better connected to the community. We felt scattered, uprooted, discontent, and at times very isolated and lonely.
It was such an exciting season of transition, yet one that was immensely challenging. In retrospect I can see that the challenges arose both from the past, present, and the future. Through the rearview mirror, I was grieving the loss of familiar people, places, and activities that I knew in Birmingham. In the visor mirror, I was looking at myself for the first time as a father, an ordained minister not serving in a parish, and a resident of Buckhead, GA. It was all so very new and disorienting. Through the windshield, I was looking out at what lay ahead, and I was having trouble fitting new people, places, and possibilities into my range of view. Psychologists and neuroscientists are well aware of this struggle to insert new information and experiences into the well-established interpretive categories that our minds develop over time. It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy!
This happens in congregations too. Change is difficult because congregations are made up of human beings who grieve the loss of the familiar past and fear the prospect of an uncertain future. It is perfectly human of us to hold on to the past, even if it’s destructive, for as the saying goes, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” In many cases congregations look in the rearview mirror and maybe they see “glory days” that existed decades ago but which are long gone, key people who started the congregation but who have died or moved away, a community that used to look a lot different than it does now. In the visor mirror they see in themselves remnants of what used to be, current attempts to keep the ship afloat, a dated but at least comfortable place that hasn’t changed as much as the surrounding community. All of this makes the windshield a terrifying lens. Looking through the windshield and stepping on the gas means navigating a world in which the rate of change is rapid and unpredictable, and the experience is very disorienting. Like my experience moving to Atlanta, it means risking the possibility of being uprooted, scattered, and discontent. It’s perhaps a small glimpse into what the first disciples faced upon their decision to follow Jesus.
God is always in the business of calling people into unknown places, circumstances, and relationships, calling us to be a faithful witness in ways we would have never foreseen or imagined. In short, it’s a call for us to be open to the future, open to change. If while moving forward we spend all our time looking in the rearview or visor mirrors, we should expect and anticipate disaster. But looking through the windshield and courageously pressing on toward the goal that lies ahead– all the while taking intermittent, instructive glances at the past and present – we will begin to more intimately experience the radical freedom and comforting security of Christ, as well as the certain knowledge that God can be trusted not only with the future, but with the change required to get us there.