Thrive in change. Defy the trend.

“It’s Not About You.”

If Dr. Haldeman was giving you a “talk” that included this phrase, you were not being your best self.

Seminary classmates and I grew accustomed to hearing these words from my worship professor and advisor, Dr. Scott Haldeman, while I was in the M.Div. program at Chicago Theological Seminary. He would say those words, kindly yet sternly, if we were unnecessarily consumed by self-pity or if we were taking a worship service or ritual too seriously.

One time, sitting at dinner with some friends and Dr. Haldeman, someone said something like, “I wouldn’t want so-and-so coming to my hospital bed when I am dying.” Dr. Haldeman simply looked at them and said, “It’s not about you.” I got a similar look when, a couple years later, I was insisting that no one should wear Halloween costumes to my ordination which took place on — you guessed it — Halloween. Dr. Haldeman, who preached at that service, looked at me with those calm but stern eyes and said, again, “It’s not about you.”

Dr. Haldeman’s words are the inspiration behind the title of my upcoming retreat, “It’s Not About You: Reinventing Ritual.” With nearly all of our beloved rituals — from college football Saturday to Sunday worship to ordinations to holiday meals to community singing — upended by the coronavirus, it’s easy to slip into self-pity and take what we do in the ritual more seriously than why we do it in the first place.

When preaching at my ordination, Dr. Haldeman wove the now well-known phrase into his sermon, reminding all present that what I (or anyone else) did in ministry is not about me. He said, however, that it IS about me only if I humble myself to be just another part of the vulnerable community struggling to make meaning amidst the upheavals of joys and heartache, success and failure, love and indifference. It is about me only if I acknowledge my own vulnerability enough to work alongside others who are as much or more vulnerable than myself. 

I heard that phrase enough times in my four years of seminary that, to this day, I periodically give myself a stern look and repeat to myself, “It’s not about you, Nicole,” when I’m getting self-absorbed. So now I’m passing the humbling blessing onto you in my next retreat. You may be grieving the loss of a treasured ritual. Or you may want to seize the opportunity to reinvent a family ritual you never liked much to begin with. Or maybe you want to change a ritual you’ve always done that has become stale. Or you may need a new ritual where you didn’t think you needed it before because circumstances have changed. Regardless, you don’t have to go through this alone. 

Join me for my 4-week virtual online retreat, “It’s Not About You: Reinventing Ritual,” beginning October 22. I’ll be joined for at least two sessions by the glorious Rev. Nannette Banks. Learn more and register here.


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