One of the most profound conversations of my life happened with my sister at a coffee house on the corner of Kietzke and S. Virigina. I was twenty-two and was working at a church at that time. Full-time ministry. My dream. The only problem was that I felt like I had lost connection with God…and I really didn’t really love the people I was ministering to. As I shared all this with my sister, I revealed a question I had barely let myself entertain: should I quit my job? It seemed contradictory to quit “ministry” so that I could be close to God, yet it felt like my ministry was standing in the way of my knowing God.
My sister said words that I have lived by since that day: nothing matters more than knowing God. She went on to emphasize that if my job was getting in the way of knowing God (even if it was a “ministry” job) that I needed to quit my job. She said it with such matter-of-fact confidence. It was just so clear to her. And became so clear to me.
And I have never once regretted the shift my life took after quitting my ministry job.
Now, ten years later, a similar shift is happening all over again. Val and I are about to step into a very unconventional year. A year to re-center on Jesus. To re-order our life's priorities.
Starting in October, Val will step away from his faculty position at the Christian residency where he has been working and will simply work a part-time hospital position. We also will be taking a year off from any “official” ministry. That means no retreats, no leading, no conferences, no speaking for at least the next year.*
When I describe to my friends our reason for doing this, I explain that both Val and I are exhausted, burnt-out, and fried. I explain that we are living the professional and ministry life of “fifty year olds,” but are doing so while also living in the young family reality of our thirties. We just can’t be in both right now. It is literally sucking the life out of us to try to do both. We are both also longing for more of God. To really know Him and be with Him.
There is a necessary re-ordering of our priorities in front of us. We need to re-organize our outputs. The last five years since we got married, we’ve just been piling more and more and more onto our life. Val was already a faculty member at the residency program when we got married. His job not only included practicing medicine, but also training residents in medicine, discipleship, and ministry. Nine months after we got married we added our first baby to our family. We added another baby. Both of our extended families underwent drastic changes and shifts, which engaged our hearts and emotions in ways we never expected. Val began speaking more. I published a book. We started leading more in ministry. We had a miscarriage. Retreats started stacking up on our life. Another pregnancy. More. More. More.
This is where we’ve found ourselves as we’ve come to this major life decision of stepping back from the “more.” We’ve got to wipe the slate clean and start over. We’ve got to have Jesus at the center. From there, we can begin to invest in all the rest of life: marriage, parenting, our little family, our extended family, and whatever else God reveals. We just cannot keep on running along a proverbial hamster wheel, but must evaluate where and how our energies our being invested. We cannot strive to gain great things while missing our very souls.**
In a recent blog post, Ann Voskamp described how plucking off the blooms from the first strawberry harvest would lead to much more bountiful strawberry harvests in the future. So, she sacrificed the entire first harvest for much richer and larger harvests in the future. More strawberries. Better strawberries. Just from pinching off that first round of flowers. No strawberries at first to have more and better strawberries later.***
This is where Val and I find ourselves right now. A harvest of flowers blossoming up in front of us, yet knowing that for the fullest and best harvests in the future, we’ve got to pinch off the blossoms. It seems counter-intuitive to cut back what seems like a good harvest; however, we have vision for a better harvest. A fuller harvest one day. So. We stop. Break off the current blossoms. And ask God to make His fullest harvest in us in the future, re-centering on Him and allowing him to reorder our priorities.
I feel that we must throw off anything that we can that is weighing us down during this season so that we can see and run the race He has ultimately marked out for us.****
* Our hands are still open to the possibility that God may lead both of us to a specific, temporary investment of our gifts at some point in this next year.
** For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:26 (ESV)
*** Click here to read her full post.
**** Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us… Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)