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April 30, 2008
In The Village
Final stage of calling is learning to let go
by Orson Scott Card

Once upon a time, in a ward far, far away, there was a Primary president who loved her calling.

Sister A was so dedicated to it that she had not only planned all the presentations for a year in advance, she even had the visual aids and handouts prepared, everything charted and filed and ready to go.

And then she was released from the calling.

That's when the trouble began.

At first, few understood what was happening, as Sister A become the new Primary president's constant visitor. It only gradually dawned on people that Sister B was following right along with all of Sister A's plans.

Because of personal and family needs, Sister B was released after only a few months of service. And Sister C, the new Primary president, had no particular interest in Sister A's stored-up visual aids and well-charted plans.

Rumors started flying around the ward that Sister C was doing a "terrible" job with Primary, that the organization was in disarray, that nothing was planned properly, that the children were "confused."

Poor Sister C had no idea what was happening to her. It took many months for those who did understand to calm things down. "Nothing's wrong with Primary," they'd tell people with a smile. "Sister C has simply declined to accept one of the former Primary presidents as a volunteer counselor."

Then they would think for a moment, nod and smile, and stop passing on the criticisms.

Obviously, Sister A's case was unusual. But most of us certainly understand the feeling!

It's a wonderful thing in the Church that few of us hold any calling for more than a handful of years. Our callings are not careers -- we do them for a time, and then we pass on the responsibility for someone else.

We then get a new calling and fulfil another role in the ward.

Sometimes our release comes as a blessed relief. For instance, I have never known a bishop who didn't count down his years of service ("one year to go") and receive his release with gratitude. Not that they didn't love their callings -- they did. But so much else in their lives had to be put on hold, to do a good job of bishoping.

Often, however, we are released from callings that we're still enjoying. Having served with a heart full of love, it is wrenching to be pulled away and watch all those responsibilities -- all those people that we cared so much about -- be placed in someone else's hands.

It can even feel like a kind of repudiation, as you watch all your decisions get undone. The new way you handled each year's youth conference, for instance, gets put back to the old way; after years of making sure that basketball was never the primary Young Men's activity, suddenly it's all basketball again.

The solution is obvious, of course: Don't watch! Take your eyes off the old calling and put your whole heart into the new one.

But that advice is often easier to give than to take -- especially when you have a sense that your work was not completed before the calling was taken from you.

One thing that helps enormously in letting go of a calling is a good release interview.

Sometimes I think good release interviews are about as uncommon in the Church as PPIs. A harried bishopric calls someone in -- or, worse, calls them up -- tells them of their upcoming release, thanks them profusely, and then it's done.

But it takes only a little more time to sit down with Brother or Sister Released and talk through their months or years of service.

The first step is to ask what Brother Released feels he accomplished and learned, and which aspects of Sister Released's calling she thinks of as unfinished.

Listen to their concerns and hopes and fears, and pass on to the new person any that you believe will help them. There's nothing wrong with continuity!

The second step -- and this is the hard one -- is to tell Brother or Sister Released what you think they accomplished. This requires that you actually know what they did.

This is not a time for criticism! Since it isn't their calling anymore, they can't improve in it. And if you give the slightest hint of criticism -- or even agree with their own self-criticism -- that is all they'll remember from the interview.

What they need to know from you is that their service was seen and their work was valued.

Of course we don't do our Church callings for the sake of praise or applause -- to be "seen of men" (Matt 6:1,5).

But we still hunger for recognition, not from the crowd, but from our immediate leader. The words we need to hear are, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:21).

We want to know that our work was valued by somebody. Otherwise there can be a deep, aching hollow where that calling used to be. Our own insecurities cry out to us, "If I had done better, they wouldn't have set me aside and replaced me."

Intellectually, we know that we weren't "fired"; but deep down inside, we feel sacked.

A good release interview can go a long way toward healing that wound, for those who were not ready to let go.

What if you're released and don't get such an interview?

Conduct it yourself. Write down all the things you did. All the things you meant to do and didn't. The finished business and the unfinished. The mistakes and the achievements.

Don't let yourself be negative. Don't be falsely humble about what you did right. Remember it all, and write it down.

Then take it to the Lord in prayer. Talk through it all. If there are tears of joy or of regret, shed them all in conversation with the one who knows you best and loves you most.

That's a release interview you can resume as often as you need to. You can also return to what you wrote down about the calling and reminisce. Surprisingly soon, the regrets fade and the glow of accomplishment becomes nostalgia for the person you used to be. You will see very clearly the things you learned -- or still had yet to learn.

Meanwhile, you let your replacement do the best he or she can. You stifle any criticism you have -- and put a stop to any complaints about the new person that anybody brings to you.

Support your replacements even when you think they're making mistakes. They'll find out soon enough, and learn from them as you did.

It's their calling now, not yours.

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