There are times when I read something that unexpectedly changes the way I look at things. Like the book I read with a group of guys about the psychology of change that I thought would be really lame but now I can't think about change without thinking about elephants.
Or more recently, it was an Oatmeal comic. Now a warning for those that may click over, you may not like everything the author of the Oatmeal has to say or how he says it. In fact, I'm pretty sure he mentions penis jokes in the same comic that brought about an important change in how I think about life, so....you know what, I'm just gonna say that it's not often that someone can say something impactful and make a penis joke during the same conversation. Quite a skill.
Anyway, a recent Oatmeal comic spoke about creativity and how it is like breathing. When you create, you exhale. But you can't exhale forever. Eventually, you have to breathe in. Or you'll be dead. So he spends a lot of time reading or spending time outdoors or pivoting from project to project. All of this he considers breathing.
Reading this opened my eyes, no wonder I'm so tired! I've spent the past 7 years constantly exhaling interrupted by short bursts of inhaling. Imagine for a moment seeing someone trying to breathe like this. It probably wouldn't take long before they passed out.
So as I've been writing about my recovery from bi-vocational ministry, from burnout, from everything I've experienced these past 7 years, I'm realizing the importance, the need for breathing. I haven't realized until recently just how damaged I am from my experience.
My personality is one of bouncing back, getting off the ground quick, and putting my head down and grinding. I've been grinding my whole life. And now I'm beseeched by a new challenge...rest, breathe in, deeply.
The shallow breathing I've done the past decade is natural to me, so now I have to learn a new way to breathe. I have to create an environment and schedule that will allow for healthy breathing.
A new environment
And now I find myself in a new environment, a place I thought I'd never find myself. In my first "Confessions of a Recovering Bi-Vocational Pastor" post I ended the post talking about how we had many people encourage us to leave our church but that we believed in the power of restoration, that God can use broken people to bring about restoration. That God basically uses broken windows to restore a home because he restores the window while using it to restore a home. We had clung to hope for this type of restoration with the broken relationships we had with some people at our church. I've been resolute in sticking this thing out.
Sadly, I recently became aware that this hope wasn't to be fulfilled at this time. I still have hope that some day the brokenness of these relationships will be met with some restoration, but we recently had to make the decision to settle for forgiveness and departing the church we never thought we'd leave.
For some changing church communities is no different than putting on another shirt. Not so for us, and it shouldn't be so for you! This is hard and we are sad, but also optimistic. This experience added on top of all the other challenges we are facing as a family has been suffocating. Often when we thought we were in a place where we could finally inhale we were punched in the gut, forcing the air out of our lungs that we so desperately needed.
Side note: Our missional community, our friends, and the pastor (TL) who replaced me at the church plant have been instrumental in helping us breathe during the past year! Thank you all for listening, understanding, responding with compassion, and challenging us!
So this past Sunday we had to say goodbye for now. We we aren't leaving in anger or bitterness or hoping to bring about justice for any perceived wrongs. We didn't make a hasty decision. Instead, we are leaving while expressing love and forgiveness, hoping for good for everyone in the community that we are departing from, and hoping for healing for not only us but also for those that hurt us.
A weird custom...
TL gave me the opportunity to address both missional communities after the Gathering this past Sunday. I told them we were formally leaving, why we were leaving, making it clear that all is forgiven even if the relationship remains unreconciled, and offered a challenge along with some encouragement for the road ahead. I still care deeply for the people in this community!
As I finished, TL did something unexpected, he asked everyone to gather around Beautiful and I, to lay hands on us and pray for my family. I've always found the custom of gathering a large group of people around someone and putting our hands all over them while we prayed to be kind of weird. Because it is. I mean, in any other context, we would find this to be very odd. Imagine if at the office the manager wanted to encourage you and asked for all your co-workers to lay their hands on you as he spoke his encouragement to you. It would be super awkward.
But something happened this past Sunday as everyone gathered around Beautiful and I. I think I understand why this custom exists. A good friend of ours, Jacob, prayed for us as everyone surrounded us and put their hands on us. And in that moment I was struck by the feeling of being surrounded not just by people but by the presence of God.
I talked recently about how I haven't been sensing the presence of Jesus, about how it seems like he is asleep. But in this moment, as the prayer lingered, I was moved to tears because I couldn't shake the feeling that every contact that I felt on my body from those around me served as a reminder of the presence of Jesus in that room. That Jesus, acting through His people, was literally surrounding my family.
This is the lasting image I will have from our last Sunday. Surrounded by people who loved us, experiencing the presence of Jesus, as a dear friend prayed for us and for the community of people that surrounded us.
And in that moment, I breathed deeply...