I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at this light, waiting for it to turn green. In an instant, I see the steering wheels of four different cars that I’ve sat behind, looking at life through each windshield and seeing vastly different things. In each, I’ve turned the music loud, laughed with my friends, sat in silence and listened to my daughter sing along to the music—which is not so loud now.
Pastoring in my hometown is a joy and a constant trial. For years, I talked about wanting to return, pastor and raise a family. Now I’m here, pastoring among a people I love in a place I love—a place that tests what I believe at every stoplight.
I coast to the corner, and it’s not the different wheels I’ve sat behind but the mistakes I’ve made that pull up beside me—the wounds I’ve caused and the sin I’ve chased. The cold winters of loneliness and the summers of burning anxiety turn up their dials, all before the light releases me. In the span of a traffic cycle, my heart’s contentment can be so quickly unsettled. My inner monologue, like a dashboard radio broadcast on repeat, sinks my mind into regret over the past, doubt over the future and distraction from the present.
I’ve driven these roads a thousand times. At these intersections of past and present, my memories and comparisons must meet the truth of Jesus in my life. A grocery run across town can turn into a fight to speak against myself—to speak instead of listen. The words of Martin Lloyd-Jones resonate with me: “Why are you downcast, o my soul? Listen, and I will speak to you. Put your hope in God.”
You are the one who speaks the most to you. Talk back to yourself. Follow the model of the psalmist and speak to your soul. Memories have to be stewarded when they arise; they don’t get to dictate the soul’s state. We have to practice talking to ourselves—too often we only listen.
The joy and sometimes the pain of pastoring in such a familiar place is the knowing and being known. This town is filled with people I love and the memories I share with them. I am unable to recreate my identity because I am known, and great comfort comes from that.
Last year, I looked out at the congregation while preparing to preach. On the back row, four silver heads stood out amid our younger demographic. I knew them well. I used to sit down the pew from these folks as a child. They had come across town on this day to hear “Steve’s boy.”
Standing in the pulpit, I had no chance to act as someone I’m not, as well as no need to. The gift I had been given was the reminder to trust Christ with all that I am, not the pastor I wish to be or the me I think people want to see, but the me who grew up here. The me who came to know Jesus here. The me who must deal with who I am and who I’ve been at every intersection. The me that is trying to unfold the implications of the gospel at every turn—for me, my family and my congregation.
A year later, I held the hand of one of those silver-haired men after he slipped into a coma, shortly before he died. He knew my grandfather, whom I never knew. They used to call football games together in my dad’s hometown. He knew four generations of men in my family, and the Lord gave us friendship.
There’s something to place. Something to knowing and being known. There is beauty in surrendering to it, recounting the faithfulness of God down every road. Too often, I just listen to myself and coast down the street, oblivious to the signs of grace around me. I miss the providence of God because I am looking at myself, and then my heart makes a critical turn, away from gratitude.
Pastoring in this place with these people is a joy as we live together, knowing and being known, free from recreating identities and free to embrace the one God has given us—an identity that is lived out in the Christian community. We work to recall the faithfulness of God when the dials of life are turned too loud to hear, when we are tempted to listen to ourselves rather than to talk to ourselves and to one another. I’m thankful for these intersections and for every mile in between. Each is an opportunity to preach to myself, to cultivate gratitude and to live among a people I love.