On October 5, an announcement was made to the congregation that my employment at New Life Community Church would end on December 31.
A few days before, I was writing last week’s post. Nervous about the coming change, I reached for the hand that stilled the storm.
Often I am unaware of the storms in my life; thankfully, God isn’t. God has the advantage of being both near and far. Up close the Holy Spirit sees, feels, and hears what is going on inside me; from above God views where I have been and where I am heading. The Spirit has noticed the long hours I’ve been putting in, how I’ve neglected my bicycle, Gracie, and how often I comfort myself with food.
At the SoulStream partners retreat in June, I had many conversations with friends, catching up on the past year’s events. I told them I will be helping facilitate SoulStream’s spiritual formation course and that I have completed my training to be able to give the Ignatian spiritual exercises and hope to accompany one or two people through them.
“Yes. I am still working at the church half-time,” I explained. “And, oh yeah, I launched a blog last summer. I post a story or reflection every Friday.” After finding out what I’d been up to, each person commented with a tone of concern that I was doing a lot.
Are you hearing that? the Holy Spirit seemed to say, sharing their concern.
I thought about my three vocations: writing, spiritual direction, and pastoring. Olympian Eric Liddell once said that he felt God’s pleasure when he ran. I feel God’s pleasure when I write or accompany someone in spiritual direction. But these endeavours often get pushed to the side. My third occupation, providing leadership in a church, demands most of my time and energy. It also pays the bills.
Sunday morning, as the retreat came to a close, we gathered for worship. John Kiemele, our director, read a poem. He invited us to listen for the line in the poem that stood out for us.
These words brought tears to my eyes: The risen, living Christ… seeks for that which is lost within me.
I knew what was lost within me: the “me” that I am on vacation, when I don’t have to be a pastor. The risen Christ wanted to lift the heavy cloak of responsibility from my shoulders. He was whispering, Go. Be free.
Over the next few month,s I imagined what it would be like not to be rushed all the time. I longed for a generous amount of time to rest, write, and ride my bike. By the end of the summer, Fred and I were certain that Jesus was asking me to step down as associate pastor of New Life.
When I talked about it with the elders, they confirmed my decision in a very practical way: the church doesn’t have the financial resources to keep me on staff.
It’s not easy to leave church work that I love or the paycheck that comes with it. But I can’t do it all without getting lost in a din of activity. Jesus sought for me in the successive storms of busyness and lifted his hand.
The risen, living Christ
calls me by my name;
comes to the loneliness within me;
heals that which is wounded in me;
comforts that which grieves in me;
seeks for that which is lost within me;
releases me from that which has dominion over me;
cleanses me of that which does not belong to me;
renews that which feels drained within me;
awakens that which is asleep in me;
names that which is formless within me;
empowers that which is newborn within me;
consecrates and guides that which is strong within me;
restores me to this world which needs me;
reaches out in endless love to others through me.
~Flora Slosson Wuellner
from Prayer, Fear, and Our Powers, Upper Room Books, 1989.