April 7, 2015

No More Ministry Exit Strategies

I’d been a pastor’s wife for less than a year when I began preparing my exit strategy. I’d unknowingly slipped on the pastor’s wife persona when we arrived at our church, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and had been attempting to live up to its clawing expectations ever since. I wanted so badly to be a good pastor’s wife, to have the answers when asked, to serve up profound wisdom, and to love people well. However, preparing my exit strategy highlighted what it is that I really wanted so badly: to be liked, to be approved of, to be appreciated, to be thought of as a “good” pastor’s wife.
I was going on as if everything was perfectly fine, but, inside, I was all knots and confusion. Condemning thoughts lurked behind every conversation, every Sunday morning, every word that spilled from my mouth. Privately, I cried and cried as I evaluated and wished back every mis-step.

Hiding my insides from others wasn’t the worst of it. I also hid myself from God, so sure that I was failing Him. I didn’t dare cast my cares on Him, because I felt certain He’d throw them back in my face, disappointed about all the things I had yet to get together. So I tried harder--smile, hug, serve, minister--as if I was a single performer under the stage’s harsh spotlight, feet tapping ever faster, trying to win the smile of God. Yes, He was my audience of One, but my audience appeared, in my own estimation, completely unmoved.

Life moved slowly, or perhaps it was just me moving slowly, weighed down, heavy, trudging along.

Less than a year in and I was already so.very.tired. I didn’t cry out, not to anyone, least of all my God. I simply gave myself a pep talk, swung the weight once again on my back, and took a step.

The thing I didn’t yet understand about God is that we don’t move toward Him, but rather He comes to us. He is a pursuer, a wooer, an initiator. With me, He waited until I had only fumes of self-effort left, and then He came. Because, as I can see now, He knew I needed to understand my need, because only then could I understand the extent of His grace toward me.

Sitting across from two college girls, I attempted to explain how God works by starting with “if”. If I obey Him, then He will approve and act. Did that not sum up everything I’d believed and everything that formed the foundation of my Christian life?

Respectfully, one of the girls said, “Christine, I don’t think that’s right.” And God came. There in my heart, I knew instantly that things were changing, that God wanted to show me some things, some things about His true character, about grace.

I drove home, praying all the while, “God, I know nothing of grace. And I desperately need to know. Show me.”

And God came, specifically through the book of Galatians. I discovered that, because I am in Christ, I am holy and righteous before God, and nothing I do or don’t do can change my status before Him. I discovered that He’s given me a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to help me, guide me, and convict me. I don’t have to lead and convict myself but can depend fully on God to do so. I discovered that my external behaviors are not what make me loved and approved by God, but that once I receive the love of God given through Jesus, it will compel me to love Him back. What I’m saying is that I discovered grace and my whole life flipped on its head because of it.

As I received this great grace, I finally understood why Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Because He carries the burden of my sin, my ministry, my life. I am loved, so I am freed to love.

The posture of the Christian is not performing in order to receive, which bears bitter fruits of pride and condemnation. The posture of the Christian is primarily receiving, because we’re receiving something that wells up in us and compels us to joyfully respond.

God came. That exit strategy? It’s long forgotten, because He still comes. He is still guiding my exploration of His love and grace, and all that I uncover becomes another building block in my enduring hope.