Transitional Rituals

I attended a training for pastors last week in which we studied the book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading (Heifetz, Linsky).

We were struck by the spiritual threads woven throughout this ‘secular’ book, published by Harvard Business School. The last chapters of the book are about self-care, which is essential in general but especially if you’re leading people through perilous but necessary change.

In one of these latter chapters Heifetz/Linsky talk about the need for “transitional rituals,” in which we peel off the professional layers and become ourselves again. This is a peculiar and particular challenge for me, partly because I am tri-vocational (mothering, writing, pastoring) and partly because I work from home. The boundaries, both physical and mental, become blurred. The place where I put together session agendas and write sermons (in our blue room) is also where I write articles, connect with far-flung friends, and watch Kideos with my children.

I also think that this “take off your professional persona” thing can be unhelpful. I know what they’re getting at. However, most people I know are seeking a life of authenticity and congruence. My three vocations (and countless other adjunct ones) require different kinds of activities. But I would hope that I am the same person regardless of what hat I wear. Clergy will sometimes lament, “You’re never not the pastor.” Yes, but hopefully, you’re also never not yourself too.

Still, I was taken by this transitional ritual idea. Caroline gets off the bus at 4, which is when I start to wind down the work day. By 5:15, Robert is home and I need to turn my face toward the mothering role.

So here is what I’ve decided to do by way of transition:

Make my to-do list for the next day. I am not a morning person, and having a list of things to do, all ready to go in the morning, is the equivalent of parking downhill.

Turn off the computer. Sounds obvious, but I was often leaving it on because I work a lot in the evenings. But turning it off flips a mental switch… and I can always turn it on later if I need to.

Store the iPhone. I physically walk upstairs and plug it in to charge. That means it’s nowhere near my person during dinner and bedtime. (OK, sometimes I forget to do this. Robert reads this blog.)

A spoken litany. This bit of prayer from the New Zealand prayer book does the trick:

Lord, it is evening after a long day.

What has been done has been done.

What has not been done has not been done.

Let it be… let it be.

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3 thoughts on “Transitional Rituals

  1. Rachel Heslin says:

    Thank you for this. For all that I, too, seek synergistic integration more than so-called “balance,” I have problems shifting focus, the other demands on my energy leaching away my ability to be fully present wherever I am at that moment. The idea of deliberate ritual accompanying the shift is very helpful.

  2. Silent says:

    I think it’s even harder when I have to back in the evening for a meeting. So I’ve worked all day as pastor, picked up Baby Girl and been mommy for a bit, and then have to go back to pastor. When do I make the transition and how? It’s a good question to ask.

  3. […] I mentioned in my last post, two weeks ago I attended a presbytery-sponsored training on how to lead congregations through […]

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