Remember learning to drive? Who taught you? Did you go through a driver’s education course with a dozen other freedom-hopefuls? Or was it the torturous hours with mom or dad in your high school’s parking lot on Saturday mornings? I had a little of all of the above. It was comical to me how difficult and challenging it was to learn from one environment verses another. The teachers were all teaching the same exact content, but the surroundings were somehow different. Place, be it in my heart or physically, made the content and understanding of it far more accessible. Turns out, it’s a lot easier to learn how to drive without your mother nervously screaming to you about the pedestrian approaching from 100 yards away.
I am learning a whole lot in this new environment I’m in. The lessons aren’t necessarily different; in fact, I’m convinced the content is the same and that this education I’m earning would come after any demanding season of life, for any person open to true introspection. For me, I’m just shy of forty days out of ministry and I’ve not had the privilege of someone showing me how to live in the aftermath, how to walk through the emotion, the turmoil, the simultaneous joy and disappointment. That’s been hard, and in the hope of not wasting the realism of being the first I’ve known to openly share the journey, I hope my words will help someone else, somewhere, somehow. I’m hoping that writing down my experiences will solidify these lessons for me, too.
What I’ve learned so far:
You'll want to say a lot of tactless, wounding, insensitive, and unkind things to those who have hurt you; but, if you hold your tongue long enough, you'll realize that only perpetuates the pain and shame cycle. You will find more merit in speaking of the good, and you’ll see the freedom in choosing to fight for forgiveness instead. You’ll recognize all of the humanity involved, including your own, and you’ll begin to see grace as the only repayment necessary.
Not everything you were told to believe to be true of yourself will turn out to be true.
This goes both ways, it turns out, to both positive and negative realities. In my elevated position as a person in ministry, I was told my Self was the enemy, the exact opposite of holy – no, the words were not that direct. Ministry breeds a culture of “reading between the lines” to decipher expectations. I may have read a demand for qualifiers that were not, in fact, there. Yet, how would I know? I was so fearful to lead anyone in the wrong direction, to tarnish my witness with someone, so neurotic about it that I questioned every thought, every desire, every word, and every motive. It was so exhausting. I lived in a constant state of defeat, in a condition which indicated I was not “free in Christ”. It is wearying, to pretend to be something we are not. I was convinced I was the black sheep, the “Extreme Make-Over” project that would one day be so great, if I’d only become enough of what I was told to be, but who was not yet, no matter how painful or shaming the “pruning” of my earthly gardeners had been. They meant it well, but, they needed pruned, too. The hardest part of it was that I wanted to be what others told me to be. I thought this intangible, untouchable “person” was the “real me”. It was utterly devastating to fight to find her every day, and to come home empty handed, believing others had found their “freedom in Christ”. I just kept wondering why my freedom was so hidden if God wanted me to have it.
I have a new vantage point now, though, as all of us find in seasons of change. And while I can see I do have much to offer, and though I feel more freedom this side of ministry than I ever did inside of it, I realize I’m not as marginalized as I viewed myself to be. Much of it was self-imposed. I was so busy comparing myself to others that I could not appreciate who I was. How is it so easy for us to look at our peers and see them as gifted, to respect what they bring to the table, and to just as quickly dismiss ourselves?
You'll begin to separate people's expectations of you from the reality of who you are and to joyfully accept your limitations.
Self-pillaging began to bottom out for me, recently. I shared perhaps the most unacceptable thing about myself with a friend, something that completely defies the expectations of others, and though there was some degree of a shame hang-over in the days and weeks that followed, I found, mostly, a nimble lightness in my heart. These little buoyancies, I’ve noticed, pop up each time I recognize myself trying to meet an expectation of another, and then, politely, declining the invitation to play. This is the freedom I’ve been scavenging for, I think.
Not all who profess to be friends, are, and that’s okay.
It is a very busy world out there, and between the pressures on all to be a little bit of everything to everyone, sometimes things like friendships get the left overs, if that. Many times, our friendships are birthed far more from convenience than from common ground. Suffice it to say, once you remove that convenience some friendships build upon, they cease to exist.
That made me angry for a while, well, still does, a little. However, I’m choosing to believe that each friendship served a purpose in its own right, and there is only one way to redeem them: To appreciate them for what they were. I’ve begun a mental list of what each person taught me, and when I feel resentment rising, I recall their list, embrace what was, and release my expectations.
Traditional Saturdays are life-giving.
Ministry often requires odd working days and hours. For well over three years, I did not experience a true “Saturday”. It’s now my favorite day of the week! I have really enjoyed the chance for a slow, late start, for a day to watch movies and do laundry and catch up with friends on a mountain hike, or to play with my niece and spend time with my family. It is a great benefit in this new season.
You'll only remember the good looking back.
The first few weeks post ministry have been a roller coaster. The most challenging part of it has been those moments when, in retrospect, I can only recall the beauty of my season in ministry. It reminds me of a eulogy, when loved ones speak of someone who has passed away. No one talks about what a cranky, bitter person they were, or how much they smoked, or how they never, ever, not even once paid their rent on time. We remember only what was beautiful about them, their kindnesses or quirks, what we loved about them. This is challenging because it leaves us room to second guess ourselves: Was this the right choice? Have I messed up? Were they really all that bad?
While I do have to remind myself that my decision was both well thought out and well motivated, I am glad my focus is on the positive. It was one of the greatest times and privileges of my life, and I could not be who I am, nor be prepared for this day without that wonderful set of experiences. However, it serves us all well to make a choice, whatever that is, and to wrap both arms around it, consequences and all. No choice can be made half-heartedly in hopes of living wholly.
Reclaiming faith as faith and not a job requirement will become all consuming.
And it has. I find myself in some sort of mental gymnastics related to my faith, if it can be called that anymore, on a daily basis. It’s an excruciating journey, but one I could not take in the midst of a life in ministry, and yet one that is entirely necessary. I have the time and space in this new environment to open myself up to the lessons and questions of my heart and of God. There are a lot of days I just want to find the off switch and power down this mad house (those are usually the days with a lot of wine & cheese in them) but overall, I am deeply grateful for the space, the questions, and, gracefully slow, the revelations of truth.
Life will feel normal and strange all at the same time.
And, perhaps, this is the win: That each day requires a motion in uncertainty, an element of trust and risk, willingness to miss-step and laugh at oneself…courage.
In her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brene Brown says it this way: “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor-the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” She later refers to this as “ordinary courage”.
I’m living a life of ordinary courage now. I’m telling my WHOLE story, devoid of shame or restraints, and I needed a new environment to learn how to do this. I’m still learning how to do this. But you know what?
I’m doing it.