These past few months have been hard. At the beginning of August, I made the decision to transition from my position as a Student Pastor. I loved ministering to my students in Iowa, and I miss them every day.
My decision to transition out was based on a few revelations.
The most important reason was that I chose to embrace what God had shaped me for. I had put a lot of investment into reflecting on where my life has been, what my strengths were, my weaknesses, what energized me, and where I wanted my life to be.
At the end of these reflections, I landed on the conclusion that God had shaped me to be a writer and a speaker. It’s something that I have known since I was nineteen years old, but just because I knew it doesn’t mean I thought it was okay. It felt wrong to chase after my dreams. But now I think it was wrong to think it was wrong, haha!
Another of these epiphanies was that after 10 years of Student Ministry, I had developed an identity problem in Church. I didn’t know who I was outside of being a Pastor. Once I became aware of this, I knew it was wisest to step into a new season. I had to discover who I was in Christ, not in Church.
So I moved to St. Louis, Missouri. And on one hand, things were looking great! I finished my book, I had guest speaking opportunities lining up, and I was in love. Everything was honky dory.
But not long after I had moved, I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on the problem. So, as expected from a person with anxiety, the pressure started getting to my head and things began to spiral.
Like water escaping through my hands, I could literally feel everything slip through my fingers. The internal conflict after detaching from church work for the first time in a decade, the weight of moving to a new city, trying to find a secular job, making new friends, and being in the middle of a pandemic created a lot of stress and burden on my shoulders. I had taken an incredibly big leap, only to find that the ground I landed on was not as secure as I had anticipated.
And then the ground collapsed underneath me.
I have been through heartbreaks before, but this was much worse because of the amount of risk and investment involved. After my relationship had ended, I knew I couldn’t stay in town, I could physically feel my sanity draining away.
So, in an act of desperation, I decided to go back home. Back to Georgia. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to go somewhere new again, but I also wasn’t ready to go back. These past few years have been pretty traumatic and all of the hurt that I have been through was contained in Georgia.
It’s almost poetic: I left somewhere I couldn’t stay, to go somewhere I never wanted to return to.
The Valley’s Shadow
I made the decision that I thought was wisest for my emotional health because I could feel that it was at risk. But, in doing so, I ended up losing speaking opportunities, and I lost the secular job I had. After moving back to Georgia, merely seeing familiar roads and locations presented me with constant reminders of memories and feelings I wanted to keep locked away and contained.
The first two months were utter agony. Most days were spent in bed until late in the afternoon, filled with sorrow and bitterness. In the past, I would react to hardships by just pushing forward with eyes closed; I would force myself to be motivated, I would “preach” the pain away. (Which, really, was just my Christian version of pushing pain down.)
But at this point, I had accepted defeat. I didn’t know how to move forward.
My mind was flooded with the same question, “Why?” I couldn’t wrap my mind around it, and it
made makes no sense. The door was wide open and everything was pointing to the steps I took. So why would I be led to what I thought was green pastures, only to be pulled right back into the valley?
Stones Instead of Bread
I am very thankful for some key friends of mine who have walked through this season with me every step of the way. People who didn’t really offer advice, they just let me feel heard and be completely vulnerable as I vomited out all of my despair.
But, along the way, there were people who tried to offer encouragement and advice, and it made me sneer. If I were a wolf I probably would have snarled and bitten them. This was what they would say,
“You have a whole ministry dedicated to teaching others what it means to simply love Jesus. Maybe God is using this season to teach you what it means to simply love Jesus.”
I was ready to fight, and I was fighting. I refused to pray or read my Bible because those were things I did regularly to try and connect with God. I wanted to give God the silent treatment. I did this because the truth is what made it hurt all the more. The truth is I do love Jesus, and I know that Jesus loves me. That is why it hurts.
I had already been through enough trauma and hard seasons, why another? There’s a passage where Jesus asks, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matt. 7:9.) I struggle with this because it truly feels as if this is what God had done to me. I was fooled into thinking I was given bread, when I was actually given a stone.
A Taste Of My Own Medicine
I had just gotten out of a hard season, all I wanted was to rest for a little while. And I had believed that God was granting that to me. I know that life will always be hard, that’s just life. But I believed that after all of my perseverance and steadfast faithfulness, I was finally at the end and could sit by quiet waters for a little bit.
But the reality was, I was still in the valley. I had already been through enough valley’s, why another? And then one of my friends said this to me,
“I’m sure Paul thought the same thing the second time he went to prison.”
He didn’t mean it in a condescending way, I don’t think he gave that comment much thought at all. But it honestly did something in me. Something clicked.
“Oh……yeah…wow…” I said on the other end of the phone, sitting in my parked car.
“You’re right… He probably did…”
Paul went to prison, not once, but twice for sharing the gospel. Now, granted, our situations are a little different, Paul expected to be killed for Christ. I don’t know what all went through his mind. But I do know this, even when things weren’t looking bright, Paul’s focus remained clear:
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-8 NIV
So I say all this to say this:
I’m in a difficult season of life. My life has never been easy and it feels like it never lets up. But I know the only option I have is to push forward. I hope that the future is bright, but I know it never will if I don’t try. Thank you for joining me in this journey, and keep checking https://simplylovejesus.com for new stuff!