Attentiveness: Lament and Thanksgiving in the Pivot
Visit www.gcts.edu/pivot to stay up to date on the pivot.
The Gordon-Conwell community is experiencing a liminal time–that in-between time filled with feelings of both loss and yet-undefined hope; of death and the joy of new possibilities. But before there is hope and joy, we must take time to reflect on God and his response to loss and lament:
Thou hast kept count of my tossings;
put thou my tears in thy bottle!
Are they not in thy book? (Psalm 56:8)
God remembers our cries. He knows our history and how very important it is to celebrate it even as we move into our future. Our community life, especially, as we look forward, depends upon the deeply spiritual need to lament this season of transition by telling our stories.
Sudden loss can cripple or empower us. It can turn us into bitter complainers who live with an open wound, or—through particular spiritual practices of remembering and thanksgiving—we can see those wounds healed and then become stronger people of hope and joy. It takes time.
In 2005, Nancy and I returned to Singapore to re-visit the place where we had raised our children. We had lived in St. Paul’s Hall, a five-story apartment building on the campus of Trinity Theological College. It took 52 steps to reach the top. It had no air conditioning and so lots of open windows with little separation between our family and “God’s creation”—geckos, snakes, flying ants, squirrels, birds, and monsoon rains. It had been a critical and defining eight years of our lives. As we walked up the necessary 100-step approach of Mt. Sophia to get there, at last, we turned the corner to see it.
It was gone. The home where we raised our children—where Caroline learned Chinese and where all our children were loved by students from all over Asia—was no more. All that remained was a bulldozer and piles of bricks and metal.
Nancy cried. I cried too.
Then we did the next best thing, what seemed natural and important. We went out to a hawker stall and ordered coffee and told our stories of this wonderful home that was now gone. We reminisced how, as a family, we would have to take two taxis since we were too large to fit into one. We remembered the mold that would grow on leather shoes, looking out over the Istana (royal residence), and our family devotions with our kids at the table and on their beds. The place that held those memories was gone, even while the memories themselves remained vivid and alive.
At long last one of us made the necessary point: “We moved to Asia as missionaries with the hope that our children would grow up to love Jesus. Well, they have grown up. They’ve gone to college and have gotten married. There is no going back. But there also is no need to. They are following Jesus and are choosing their own paths. As a family, we can go back to that time in our lives and in our stories, and it is important to remember these meaningful stories. But there is no need to go back to the actual apartment building. The apartment was a sacred space used by God until he called us elsewhere. So now we remember and give thanks.”
As we, as a community, pivot and move into this critical transition, many Gordon-Conwell alumni, faculty, and staff are feeling a deep sense of loss. Our beautiful Hamilton campus, which for decades has rendered a tranquil and sprawling platform for our mission has, alas, become a problem that has compromised our future and now holds us back from realizing the seminary’s larger calling and from fulfilling our greater mission. Even as we talk about “stewarding” the property for the sake of our future mission, we feel the sting of loss, even as Nancy and I felt it when we stood in the empty space where our apartment once stood. And, as we did then, so our community must do now: we need to tell our stories and remember with thanksgiving the works of God in them.
In the coming months, we will be providing opportunities for the Gordon-Conwell community to tell their stories and recount the wonderful years at 130 Essex Street and how much that time has meant for individual lives.
As we lament, let’s remember to give thanks. For me, I am thankful that I was able to get advice from J Christy Wilson that I should get a PhD and then go overseas. So that’s what I did, and we ended up in Singapore. The Hamilton campus has been a place where lives are changed in conversations, classes, and sometimes in dating and marriages!
Stay tuned for more information about the ways we, as a community, will be telling our stories: on this web page, in the prayer chapel, and then at one or two of the upcoming celebration events when we will gather to tell stories and give thanks. God has been so good to us. Let’s give him the thanks he is due.
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.