Since our website is called “Bold Discipleship,” the mission of our United Methodist denomination is “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” and one of my spiritual gifts is teaching I planned to ramp up my discipling this year. In other words, write more blog posts, lead more small groups and Bible studies, and do more spiritual mentoring. I would “verb” the word disciple.
Many of us had high hopes that 2021 would be better than 2020. I remember a conversation in December of 2020 where one person present said, “2021 has got to be better than 2020!”
“Be careful,” someone else said, “I can see God saying, ‘Oh you think so? Here, hold my beer.’”
Many times during this year, Jeff and I have reminded each other of that conversation. As Jeff began to transition out of full-time pastoring into semi-retirement, we anticipated having more time to spend with family and to disciple others. In January, his mother was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and given a few months to live. All our plans were upended.
Instead of planning for our move to Tyner or teaching all those Bible studies, I took on more of Jeff’s church work so that he could spend time with his mom each week. And although I knew pastoring without Jeff and his Trinity team to work with after June would be challenging, I didn’t realize how much I would struggle to plan worship on my own and how much it would wear me out emotionally and spiritually.
When Jeff’s mother passed away in June (proving the doctors wrong by living longer than predicted), we were in the middle of moving and I was taking a required college course to keep my local pastor license. By the time we were settled in our new home in July, we both felt exhausted, depleted, and running on spiritual fumes. “Here, hold my beer” indeed.
In the fall our new conference superintendent for the north district “invited” us to attend a mandatory workshop on spiritual disciplines. The workshop was a welcome time of not being in charge—of just doing what the presenter asked. A bonus was a challenge to not talk and stay off our phones during the breaks! We were also strongly encouraged to take the ideas back to our churches and given time at the end of the workshop to think about how we might do that.
Jeff and I planned a worship series on spiritual disciplines for my church, incorporating practicing them into our Sunday worship time and encouraging exploration during the week. In the process, I realized God was pushing me to step up my game as a disciple—to “noun” the word.
Solitude and sabbath have long been challenges for us, so I pushed myself to incorporate these into my life more regularly and faithfully—a practice I plan to continue in 2022. I also refreshed and expanded my prayer practices to include more time to simply be with God. I’m challenging myself to incarnate Jesus to others more often too. I’m discovering ways to be a better disciple of Christ.
In the process of dealing with the challenges of 2021, we’ve become stronger disciples by leaning on prayer and other spiritual disciples every day. Sometimes, to paraphrase Tolstoy, we get so caught up in what we want to do for other people or the world that we overlook what we need to do for ourselves. What might you need to do for yourself in 2022 to change for the better?