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bethany_lutheran_church“Thank you for taking time to visit with me again,” I said to Pastor Tim Bohlmann at Bethany Lutheran Church in Waynesboro, Virginia. We sat across from one another at a small table in his office. Light reflecting off the snow outside the windows cast the room in white.

“I’m happy to meet with you,” he said. “So what’s happening?”

“Since Christmastime, I seem to have turned another corner. It’s showing up in my encounters and writing, as if a distance is closing.” I told him about my grocery store trip before the storm, and how I felt connected and calm. “It’s new territory for me, an incredible blessing but not without some mess. I could use your guidance.”

“I read the pieces you sent and like the direction you’re going,” Pastor Tim said.

“Thanks, I think I’m making progress. This week, I wrote in response to a prompt: There are many ways to kill yourself. I decided to write about one of my students who chose to end her life. It happened over twenty years ago. But my piece wasn’t really about suicide. It was about living death – killing your Self with a capital S.”

“We kill ourselves by denying God,” Pastor said, leaning forward and folding his hands. “He loves us the most, and we push Him away.”

I scribbled notes as fast as I could.

“We need to ask in what ways do I push the Lord away? How do I hold Him ransom? How do I reward myself with these activities?”

“Walls, I said. “I construct them against God so I can stay in control.” I paused.

“I have a suggestion,” Pastor said, “and I know it’s going to sound weird. Try praying scripture. It will seem like you are reading God’s words back to Him. But when you pray, scripture will help you align your prayers with His truth.”

I could pray the scripture that my friend Sarah chooses for her daily Noontimes reflections, I thought. “But what about my relationships with others?” I said.

“Ah, then it gets messy.”

“I’ve discovered that I wall off those who hurt me,” I said. “And when they push my buttons, I lash out.” I sighed. “There we are again, replaying the same old scene saying the same old words from the same tired script. I don’t want to do that anymore. So if I can’t say something without anger, I try not to say anything.”

“Not saying something can be as damaging as saying something.”

Oh, Lord, do I have work to do, I thought.

“It’s the serenity prayer, isn’t it?” I said, and Pastor nodded.

Boundaries, not walls, and I was the one who needed to change.

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