Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
As I am writing this blog, it is the day before I fly to Nevada to visit my mother who is on hospice. She is doing fairly well, but her health could take a turn, and I want to see her and be with her. My sister and my brother will be there as well. I’m looking forward to being with them.
But I am also conflicted because my husband is still recovering from his brain surgery in November. He and our sons rely on me a lot. But in order to go see my family in Nevada, I have to leave my family here in Virginia. It is the way things are in my life right now. I share this only to say that is the way of life for everyone. There are things we have to let go of in order to live in the demands as well as the desires of our lives.
When I return, it will be the weekend before Lent begins, and I have been thinking already of what that means for me this year. Honestly, the idea of “giving something up for Lent” seems rather ridiculous this year. The pandemic has brought so many changes in our lives that have caused us to give up time with family and friends and the joy of learning and working in person with others—along with so many other changes. There is still a lot of letting go for my husband as he waits for healing, and for everyone in our family. I confess I haven’t even taken down my Christmas tree. I just need the light and cheer in this dark season of winter.
No matter how we feel about it, in just a few weeks we will all be letting go of our dear friend and pastor Pete James as he retires. That is a big change for all of us. I have worked closely with Pete for fourteen years, almost a quarter of my life, so it is a loss I feel deeply. And I feel grateful for the joy of learning from him and serving alongside him for so long. I know it is the right time for him to retire, and I know the Lord has good plans for him and Chris. I also feel very confident and hopeful about the church’s future under new leadership.
But to be honest, I also feel very sad. I will miss Pete’s presence and leadership. I hope and trust we will remain spiritual friends, but it won’t be the same. I don’t want to be numb to or avoid feeling the grief that comes with loss. As someone said, grief is the tax we pay for love, for our attachments.
Grief is a part of letting go—not just in death but in other circumstances of life. Really, transitions of every kind, even good ones, involve a kind of grief because we have to let go of one reality to receive and experience another.
I have found benefit from “giving something up for Lent” in the past. But given all that is going on in life and ministry right now, it feels like there is enough letting go. This is a season in which I am called to actually do what I have intentionally practiced. There are many ways I have to let go in external ways, but I also have to be attentive and recognize there is inner letting go to be done as well. I need to make sure I am processing the transitions, crises, and grief in helpful and healthy ways—relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. That is true not only for me but for each one of us in our personal lives.
It’s also true for us as a church. Letting go of a senior pastor who has served for almost 42 years is no small transition. Some experience this transition more deeply than others. But it is important to name it for what it is and to process it appropriately.
I hope you are reading the daily devotions, which are reflections on how people have experienced transformation through the ministries of VPC under Pete’s leadership. I’m looking forward to more videos in worship that share about his time at VPC. I encourage you to go to the website to explore the ways you can celebrate and show your gratitude to Pete for his 42 years of ministry.
After this season of celebration and gratitude, we will have to let go of Pete and his leadership. Lent is actually a good season for us as a congregation to walk through this transition. In Lent, we walk with Jesus all the way to the cross. Jesus knew there would be a lot of letting go for him, and he began to teach his disciples “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (in Mark 8:31-32).
Peter objected to what Jesus said. He and the other disciples believed he was going to Jerusalem to overthrow Rome, establish Israel as a sovereign nation, and ascend the throne as the Messiah. Jesus knew the disciples had a lot of letting go ahead too. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
Though we have let go of so much in the last year, Jesus knows each one of us also has a lot of other letting go yet to do. But letting go is not the end. It is the way we open our hands to let go of control to give to ourselves to God. Sometimes it feels like dying. Indeed, there are always things we have to die to in order that the life of Christ might live more fully in us. On the other side of death is resurrection. As we open our hands in trust, we receive from God what only he can give. We let go to let God do in and through and for us what only he can do. I’ll have more to say about that in my next post.
For now, consider what it means for you to let go right now. How is God inviting you to let go—in your personal life, marriage, family, work, and even in relationship to Pete and our church? How might this be an invitation and opportunity to let God give you a deeper experience of his love, grace, and power?