January 9, 2014

The Blank Space

My friend Marylyn took us to the Richmond airport when we left for our sabbatical last June, and then she picked us up when we returned seven weeks later. She reminded me the other day, with tears in her eyes, what a palpable difference she saw in us when we returned. We were at peace, rested, joyful, she said, and she was absolutely right.
I don't want to forget what it felt like to come home again and to be so glad to come home again. I don't want to forget all God taught us through our standing outside our lives and looking in. I don't want to forget how sure I felt about God's calling on our lives and how sure I felt that He would fulfill that calling. I don't want to forget the lessons, big and small, that He taught us. He spoke so loud and often (and I was so eager and still and quiet to hear) that I filled an entire journal with His words.

But I am forgetting, just a little bit. It's been five months now since we returned, five months of doing what we were doing before we left, five months of routine and day-to-day ministry. Some of what I thought I wouldn't forget or slip back into, I'm forgetting and slipping back into. But some things have held up, and we've made changes that have helped us maintain our spiritual vitality, like taking a Sabbath, doing things that give life to our marriage and our souls, and doing less of what saps us of life. I'm thankful.

But change is not easy. In fact, it is pretty uncomfortable. Since we've been back, I've felt uneasy and just plain weird for five months straight. I haven't understood those feelings, because we've truly tried to be faithful to what God showed us during sabbatical about ministry and our unhealthiness.

And then Marylyn reminded me what she saw on our faces when we got off that plane to return home. She made sense of it for me, saying, "Christine, you feel uncomfortable because you've implemented what God showed you. You've tried to make decisions that are good for you and for your marriage and your family, but you also know the changes have disappointed some people."

Oh, how she was right. I've felt the weird sensation of not wanting to disappoint people but of not wanting to disappoint God more. So I've been sitting in the discomfort, trying to shift to a new normal, a good new normal where my decisions and my schedule are less influenced by what people expect of me or my husband and more influenced by the Spirit's direction.

Around the same time that Marylyn spoke those words, I read Oswald Chambers': When God brings the blank space, see that you do not fill it, but wait. I have never been good at waiting in the blank space. I always have filled it to feel comfortable and purposeful and useful. But I'm learning to wait, and my discomfort has specifically come in looking to Him and waiting on Him. I suppose this is a good thing because it means I'm not giving in to the clamoring voice of the blank space.

I hope at some point this discomfort eases, but I hope I never lose the lessons that are being firmly planted in the soil of my heart. This discomfort, this waiting, is growing something in me. Or perhaps it's killing weeds of pride and self-sufficiency and people-pleasing. Whatever it is, I welcome this blank space, and I welcome Him.

If you'd like to know more about some of the lessons from sabbatical that I'm learning to implement in my life, I invite you to read these posts:

30 Things I Learned This Summer About God, Myself, and Ministry
25 Lessons on Rest and Renewal
Motherhood and Fear
No Need for Discouragement
Ministry and Unhealthiness
Sabbath Rest
A Pastor's Wife's Most Important Ministry