It has been a while (3 weeks) since I have provided an update. My apologies. It would border on offensive for me to say that I have been “too busy” to provide an update. Let’s just say that I have chosen to devote my time to other activities.
We just wrapped up week number seven of Pastoral Renewal Leave. Since the last update, Laura and I finished up our camping adventure together, and then I took a short backpacking trip by myself.
This particular backpacking trip was a mixed bag. The hike itself, in the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin, was reasonably challenging. However, there was very little “payoff” for the difficult hiking. By “payoff” I mean that the end of each day’s hiking did not result in a beautiful view, a babbling brook, a peaceful lake, or other feature typically associated with backpacking in the Midwest. It was just woods. Trees, trees and more trees. Very close around you at all times. So there was never that feeling of, “Yea, I am tired, but boy was it worth it!”
I think this is a valuable analogy for ministry. Often we can get caught up in the “hiking” part of ministry – the specific programs that we have developed – and we forget about the “payoff.” If we are tired and sweaty from “doing ministry,” we can fool ourselves into thinking we have accomplished something. But if lives are not being transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we have not really accomplished the mission. As we look to the future for Gurnee Community Church, the focus will be much more on whether or not lives are being transformed (the biblical term for this is “bearing fruit”), and less on whether we are busy at our ministry programs.
Despite some of the disappointments of this particular hike, it did give me a lot of time alone with God and with my own thoughts. It gave me some well needed time to reflect on my own attitudes and thought patterns. One of the common patterns in my life is for me to get surly, frustrated and even downright angry when things don’t go according to plan or the way that I expected them to go. This happens over the most insignificant of things, and my response is typically very disproportionate to the situation. I will spare you the details of the hours of introspection and prayer, but God has led me to some very helpful conclusions.
If you recall from “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” one of the symptoms of emotionally UN-healthy spirituality is “ignoring the emotions of anger, fear, and sadness.” That has been me, in a very big way. I have discovered that my anger is really a defense mechanism that protects me from fear. Anger is not the core issue, but fear. I am afraid. So what is there to be afraid of when something doesn’t go as I expected, or the way I think it should, or the way things were planned? The conclusion that I have come to is that I am afraid that I will be seen as someone who can’t handle the situation – as someone who isn’t good enough.
For most of you, that will seem irrational. And it is, in fact, irrational on the surface of it. But this is something that is happening below the surface for me. It is something that is the result of situations and experiences I have had, especially during my childhood. As a result of many factors, there is a lie that I have come to believe that governs much of my behavior: You don’t have what it takes. You can’t handle this. You are in over your head. You are not good enough.
There is still more that God needs to reveal in all of this, but I am sharing this with you at this early stage with the hope that it will be encouraging: Your pastor has “stuff” below the surface too, and he is also on the journey toward emotionally healthy spirituality. God has already begun to speak truth to my spirit and replace the lies about myself that I have been operating under. And this has already begun to change my attitudes and responses to things.
One of the ways that this has already had an impact is in my response to changes in “the plan.” I had originally planned this backpacking trip to be 4 days/3 nights. I had planned out a tentative route and stopping points. The first two days and nights went reasonably according to how I had planned things out, but by the morning of the third day, I was starting to feel like the plan should change. I felt compelled to hike all the way back to the car rather than stop part way for a third night. The internal struggle was huge. We have plans for a reason! I have geared up for three nights. I have been carrying food for another whole day. If I bail out now, I carried all of that extra weight for nothing! I told people that I was going to hike for four days – they will think I wimped-out.
But I tried to incorporate everything that God had been teaching me over the last few days. I realized that the only plans that are perfect are God’s plans, not my plans, and God seemed to be telling me head home today. I also realized that the idea of people thinking I had “wimped-out” was not based in reality, but in my own “issues.”
So I hiked all the way out (a rather grueling nine miles that I did all before lunchtime). I changed the plan! This was a really big deal for me. I drove home and cleaned up, and then I discovered why God had prompted me to head home: Lifetime GCC member and former Mayor of Gurnee, Dick Welton, was in the hospital in very critical condition. His condition had just changed, and it was anticipated that he would not survive the night. I was able to go to the hospital, pray with his family, and say goodbye to Dick.
Dick passed away during the night. If I had stuck with my original plan, I would still have been in the woods, 300 miles away.
God had a better plan.
He always does.
I am learning.
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
Grace and Peace,