If you are one of my coachees, something you might not know is that there is a costume box in my office, just off camera. Well, the costumes were in a repurposed DVR box. Then they moved to a giant trunk. Now they are in the trunk, two dresser drawers, and a quarter of my son’s closet. Our collection of dress-up clothes, capes, masks, hats, wigs and other accessories keeps expanding because I cannot recall the last day my four-year-old was not dressed up as one character or another: Batman (his go-to), Robin (Dick Grayson version, let’s be specific), Wonder Woman, Nemo, Aquaman, football player, Bumblebee (the DC super hero girl, not the insect), Captain America, Superman…the list goes on and on.
I am amazed at his commitment to his characters. When he decides who he is in the morning, he’s all in, with voice, facial expressions, and behaviors to match. If you are unclear about whom you are addressing, he will tell you. Very confidently. He will hum his own soundtrack. If my husband and I attempt to interrupt his expectations of what he needs to be doing as that character (Me: “It’s time to go to dinner.” Batman: “But I need to stay home and fight crime!”), then conversation, reframing, use of story elements, and lots of hugs are required for forward motion. After all, he is not just pretending to be a character. He is that character.
While he might be a bit intractable at times, his imagination also makes him very open. He understands gender – as much as any young child does – but he has no problem playing a female character. (And for the record, I have no issue with him doing so.) If he can’t wear all his accessories because he’s going to school or church or if he doesn’t have the exact clothes to be his persona, he will adapt. For example, I still am not sure how he made a red and navy striped shirt into an Aquaman costume, but hey, it worked for him.
In this manifestation of his inner life, I think my son has a lot to teach me about my pastoral presence. I need to own it. I need to be a minister in every sense of the word, not just play one on tv. And yet, I need to be ready to shatter expectations and deal with the fallout. I need to be open to inhabiting the pastor’s role my style, not just someone else’s perception of the role. How would my ministry be different with these perspective shifts? How would yours?
Now, if my kid would just teach me how to be brave enough to make these changes…