Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Practicing Stability

Every once in a while I learn something new that changes how I think. That happened this morning. I'm reading Ruth Haley Barton's book, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups. I highly recommend this book for those in leadership in a local church, but what I learned today has relevance to anyone who is a part of a local church family. It is called the Practice of Stability. I am going to quote her section directly and offer some comments.

"Stability is an interesting practice for us Protestants who are most accustomed to leaving our communities when the going gets tough, starting another denomination when we disagree over doctrine or practice, and shopping for a church like we shop for a house--only it seems we leave our churches are frequently than we leave our houses these days!

In the monastic tradition the vow of stability is central to a rule of life. The person promises to remain in that particular monastic community for life and to be shaped by the rhythms of that particular community. This commitment is understood as laying down one's life in its entirety, placing it in the hands of God.

The vow of stability is the first of the vows because nothing is possible until we give our entire life to the primacy of God's kingdom. If we leave ourselves an escape hatch, we have one foot out the door and we are not fully committed. If we say to ourselves that we will stay committed as long as commitment stays exciting and devoid of suffering, we are not fully committed. The grass is not greener 'over there:' one must work out one's problems with this person because if one doesn't, one will have to work it out with that person. This is precisely what is so freeing about the vow of stability, to have to work it out is to demand growth, as painful as it is, and that is freeing. Faithfulness is a limit that forces us to stop running and encounter God, self, and other right now, right here.

Lord have mercy! This is just not the kind of commitment most Protestants are accustomed to. In fact, many church polities don't even allow for this much stability at the leadership level. Leaders rotate off boards at predetermined intervals. Thus groups are never together long enough to get traction on their commitment to each other in community, to really settle in to all that stability means and then to reap the benefits of having been shaped together by shared practices. Sometimes it seems that when everyone has reached a place of trust and is functioning optimally out of shared commitment, it's time for some to leave and others to come on.

[This type of uncertainty] doesn't provide the opportunity for stable, long-term community... and love doesn't grow well in a garden of uncertainty.

Our commitment to stability is that we commit to stay together until tighter we discern a need for change. This is our way of creating stability. in our relationships while at the same time leaving room for the will of God to be revealed among us.

We cannot demand this kind of stability of others; we can only offer it as a true invitation of the spiritual life. Stability is a powerful invitation--to transformation, to creativity, to long-term impact. As Brian Taylor points out, 'It is the failure to commit oneself entirely that blocks creativity in the spiritual life, in the artistic life, in the relational life. Meeting one's obligations with a minimum of commitment may be seen like freedom, but it enslaves us to what is fleeting. In the instability of our age we are constantly reassessing the self--our direction and purpose, our commitment and values. Without the constancy of stability, this assessment can create chaos. Ultimately, the vow of stability is a vow of stability to God. god is the only true eternal rock upon which we stand. But God calls us into a particular life, to be spent int eh company of particular people, to accept one's life as it is given is to begin to find freedom."

Now, I don't know what you think when you read about practicing stability, but I am burdened by the lack of stability, or the complete absence of stability, that is found in so many Christians and churches, and even Hub City Church. And this lack of stability is handicapping our becoming Christlike disciples. 

I wonder what might happen if we would commit to being in community and relationship with each other, even when it is hard and we don't get what we want and our feelings get hurt and we get challenged, until the Holy Spirit leads us and others to the place where we know it is time to move on?

The more I think about practicing stability the more I realize that this could be one of the most counter-cultural things we could do, rating up there with loving others, forgiving others, and extending grace. It also reflects the character of our God who promises to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Barton ends this section with some questions for personal reflection, which I encourage you to use:

What appeals to you about stability? What resistance do you have?