On the last day of Cornerstone, as I finished my last seminar on “Transparency and Vulnerability In Community,” a woman was waiting to talk to me with several other questioners. I spoke with each one, and then came to her.
She began talking about her husband and, to be brief and to the point, she was basically talking about me.
His church and ministry experiences, his feelings and responses, what he was doing to cope….it was all very familiar.
She was deeply concerned for him, and wanted to know what to do.
It was a poignant moment for me, because it was a moment to see not only if I had learned anything these past seven weeks, but if what I had learned was now inside me, part of me.
I told her that I was on much the same road as her husband, and that I’d had many of the same feelings of panic and confusion at the loss of familiar anchors and markers. I wasn’t sure where it was all going to come out, as I was just beginning to learn how to navigate without so many of the assumptions that had guided me for 30+ years of ministry.
But I told her that I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t afraid to be myself anymore. I wasn’t afraid of the consequences of following Jesus to the places of honesty and vulnerability. I was no longer afraid of the religious systems and their custodians that had alway promised to give me security and purpose if I would just cooperate. I was no longer going to live my life as the guy who, because he was a preacher, took everyone’s expectations as the script for my happiness.
I was no longer in doubt that my real self, my true self was the one place I could be sure God would meet and love me.
I told her how important her encouragement would be to her husband. That he was probably feeling very rejected and alone after being the center of attention in church for so long and then losing those relationships. I said that I’d learned that God sometimes has to separate us from the things we depend on so that we can understand his love for us. In those times, we can begin to see clearly that what we’ve been holding onto and calling God probably wasn’t.
She started crying. I completely understood why. She loves this man, and she feels like she can’t reach him as he spirals downward out of his certain trajectory toward what appears to be a ministry systems failure resulting in a crash.
In fact, the only way for God to take you in his hand, take away your fear of flying or of falling, to show you that it’s his mercy holding you up, not the plane you’re flying, is to let you fall.
I read it in an amazing, life altering quote from Walter Brueggemann in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church:
â€œThe world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from youâ€¦by the grace of God.â€ â€” Walter Brueggemann
I quoted Brueggemannn to her with my eyes closed. It was hard to say it, because it is so true, it’s like the shining of the sun up close.
God loves your husband so much that he won’t let him draw his significance and identity from all the things he’s depended on before. There is something new in front of him. I have no idea what it is, but this is the path. Yes, the one that leads under the church bus, and out the other side to an actual world where happy people have been living all the time we’ve being in this awful script.
I gave her a hug and told her to write me. And as I walked away, I realized it was for that couple, but it was also all for me. It was me talking to a stranger, but it was really another voice speaking to me and my own journey.
It was time for the long drive home, to face a new day and whatever it brings. To face reality and to be the person God created, loves and delights in. One thing I can be certain of: I’ve left much behind, and what I am bringing with me is not what I took away. There’s been a house-cleaning, and some of what was very familiar is gone.
God has lightened the load, and he’s reminded me that the life he’s given me isn’t the sum total of what others think or what others have convinced me to believe. Life comes as a gift from Jesus, and there’s no apologies for what it does in me. The life God has for me isn’t on tap and it’s not under the control of people. It’s his free outpouring to everyone who is thirsty.
There’s a reason He said “don’t be afraid” more than anything else. Following Jesus is scary, because you can’t hold on to much else except him.