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We hear much about how to adjust to a scary, new calling– but what happens when you can’t adjust to not having your calling?
A couple of weeks ago my husband, Bob, and I visited a ward in another state. No sooner had we sat down for Sacrament meeting than I noticed a woman a few feet away on our same bench, who seemed to be struggling not to cry. She was seated with her husband and little girl.
“Do you see that woman?” I whispered. “She looks like she’s about to cry. What should I do?”
“Nothing!” Bob whispered back. “You’re not the Relief Society president in this ward. It’s none of your business. Don’t go over there and ask if you can help. For all you know she had a fight with her husband, he’ll punch you in the face and a whole rhubarb will break out. The entire ward will get into a brawl, hymn books will go flying—stay out of it.” Bob has never been one to underplay an event.
And this, my friends, is one of the differences between men and women. It’s like that comedian who says that if a woman goes into a restroom and sees another woman in there crying, she will rush up to see what’s the matter, and try to help. A man going into a restroom and finding another man in there crying, will turn on his heels and scoot out of there as fast as he can.
So instead, I sat there and pictured a giant bar fight scene in a chapel: Benches breaking, someone at the microphone, shouting, “People! People!” It’s something that I’ll bet has never occurred in the entire history of the church. But the imagery was enough to make me stay planted where I was. And I ran through all the other possibilities— maybe she has allergies. Maybe she has some kind of watery eye ailment. Maybe one of her kids wouldn’t come to church that day. Maybe a family member died over the weekend. I finally convinced myself that I do not have to rush in and solve every problem in my own ward, much less in a ward I’m visiting.
But it’s hard not to be me. It’s hard not to run around and welcome everybody, even though I’m the visitor. In fact, especially when I’m a visitor because suddenly there’s a whole chapel filled with unfamiliar faces! A couple of months ago I spoke at a women’s event in another stake, and it was all I could do to resist the magnetic pull to pop into the kitchen and see if I could help with the food. And then the cleanup. It always feels weird just walking in and sitting down without any responsibilities.
And it made me realize that someday I’m going to be released. I’m not looking forward to it, even though we’re going on six years. When it happens, I’ll probably feel at loose ends, just as you probably have felt when released from a calling you love.
We hear of newly-released bishops having a tough transition, missing that mantle, missing the hands-on counseling with people, the shepherding of a flock. It’s a tough adjustment and carries with it a twinge of homesickness, along with the stark reality that the church and all its positions can actually roll along without you. Sometimes we miss feeling needed. We forget that we’re needed elsewhere, and someone new is needed in your old job—just as you also replaced someone once upon a time. But emotions don’t always include logic, so we wince, even shed some tears, and pray for help adjusting to change.
Twenty years ago I had this same calling, and felt the same way at its end. You come to love the people you serve, the people you watch grow and conquer, struggle and triumph. So I thought I’d provide 10 suggestions for how to ease that adjustment, the next time you’re released from a calling:
- Remember that you can still care about the same people. Your stewardship has shifted, but your love need not. You can still reach out to serve and befriend.
- Think back to how intimidated you were at first by this calling, how unqualified you felt. Notice how calling upon the Lord actually works, and how it buoyed you up when you had doubts. Feel gratitude for that growth and that partnership with the Lord.
- Focus your energies on helping the new person who now has that assignment. Be available in any supportive way you can, but also know when to back off and let them define the job their way. Sometimes the best gift is to zip your lip.
- Eagerly embrace whatever new calling you are given, knowing how much each one helps us grow if we do it right. We will never learn all there is to know about serving the Lord and our fellowman. What wonderful lessons might be awaiting us in this next challenge?
- If you’re really struggling or slipping into depression, know that you are not alone. Many others have felt this way and it’s okay to ask for blessings, counseling, whatever will help you make the transition.
- Thank those you’ve worked with, and family members who have sacrificed so you could serve. Share memories, tie up loose ends, realize this is a time to celebrate the good you’ve done.
- Keep a journal of your feelings. Someday a member of your posterity will draw strength from your experiences. And it’s therapeutic for you as well. Be sure to include times when you knew God was helping you.
- Focus on the big picture. This worldwide church with its lay ministry does remarkable things with all of us rank-and-file amateurs. And any little spot where we can serve helps build the kingdom.
- Be grateful for the task you had, but don’t feel it’s the end of the world when it’s given to someone else to do. The Lord will not let his church fail, and everything really will work out.
- If you aren’t given a calling for awhile, relax and enjoy the break. Use it for rest and rejuvenation. Before you know it you’ll be busy again, with renewed energy and enthusiasm.