Alysa Short is a graduate of Bluffton College (Bluffton University) and is currently a student in the Journey program at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She and her husband Mark and their two elementary-aged kids live in the corn fields of Ohio and attend Central Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio. Alysa is the coordinator of volunteers for Ohio Conference. She loves gardening and being creative, and she drinks more than her fair share of coffee.
This is part of a series of blogs reflecting on the Pastors & Leaders | Deep Faith 2022 conference.
I have always been told that leadership is not an easy task and certainly not for the faint of heart. Yet I have always felt a call to leadership. It did not start out as a call to church leadership but has grown to include that as the years go by. I remember a pastor tapping me on the shoulder to consider pastoral ministry. In one of our conversations, I told him that I don’t like people! That sounds horrible, but I explained that people are mean and you can never please everyone. There seems to always be conflict and hardship when dealing with people. He assured me that I could handle those situations. At the time, I was not so sure.
I was reminded at Pastors & Leaders | Deep Faith 2022 at AMBS in late February that the wilderness is real. We cannot hide from it. We all encounter it. The road isn’t always easy; it gets rough. But there is an expiration date. The wilderness will not go on forever; the Promised Land is looming. Sometimes I don’t want to persevere until reaching the Promised Land because it can be a really hard road, and giving up, throwing in the towel, walking away would be so much easier!
Deep down, I know that it is in the hard times that we grow. God uses the wilderness to shape us. I personally can say that without having walked through some life-changing times in my life, wilderness that seemed to consume me, I would not be who I am today. And that’s the difficulty. We want out but we know we need to stay in. We don’t want to deal with that person who questions our thoughts and theology; we want to walk away. Yet it’s in those difficult times that we are shaped and formed and that we grow.
And our growth isn’t all about ourselves. Tom Yoder Neufeld reminded us at the conference that wilderness is the extreme landscape where our image of God has been formed. We find God in the wilderness. We rely on him as not only our guide and leader, but as our rock, our support. And we see him in a new way. I wonder, though, if I always view God in a positive light. As I walk through the tough days, weeks, maybe even years, does my image of God change in a way that brings me to praise? While at times that may be true, sometimes I think my image of God gets clouded. The questions come — why, God? How can a loving and all-knowing God allow this to be happening? Why can’t you just end this horrible thing? Maybe I even let go of my image of God at times; maybe I make him out to be the bad guy.
But I think Yoder Neufeld is right. My image of God has been shaped by those wilderness times. He is my comforter and my rock. God has helped me through the wilderness. He is all-knowing, knowing what I need to endure in order to become who He wants me to be. God does deserve my praise.
As a leader, I need to remember that my own ups and downs with God are my guide. I need to remember that my grasp of God has not always been strong and my image of God not always clear. What an example to those I am leading. Empathy. I must have empathy as I walk with others through the wilderness, as I want them to accept the hardship as I see their image of God transformed into something new. May God be praised for his promise of hope and growth in the wilderness.