This is a bit hard for me to write.
Not because I am worried about what you will think of me.
The difficulty isn't in having to face the reader but the writer, me.
But in doing so, I believe my heart has changed.
I feel somewhat like a new person.
And I hope it does similar things to you as you read.
And it would seem right to add this disclaimer:
What I am writing isn't a dissertation. I am not speaking from experience but rather the beginning stages of conviction, one that I pray and trust will lead to new experiences!
FROM BENCHES TO STAGES
I think it can be traced back to when I started to believe in and follow Jesus. I went from a life consumed by basketball to a life consumed by ministry. Now that I sit here and think about it, this was a crucial (!!!) moment and transition in my life. I went from doing something I loved to do but had little success in to something that I not only loved more but experienced greater levels of success and achievement than anything prior in my life.
Of course this is how the narrative goes right - something so good gets twisted and made into something so bad. Jesus had gripped my heart and changed my life - nothing was the same. Ministry; being engaged in serving in the local church was something I was drawn to from the start and I decided (like with almost everything I am passionate about) to cannonball straight into the deep end. It didn't take long for me to find myself spending more time helping out at the church than time at home. I gave up basketball (and a prospective spot on the bench) my senior year and started to lead, to speak on stage, to gain influence, to receive affirmation, to be recognized, to see hearts change - it was, dare I say, addicting to this young and hungry heart.
What I didn't know then was the affect it would have on how I would work from that point forward. I went from taking Ls to catching Ws. From the bench to the stage. From second string to starting quarterback. I found what I was created to do and I sprinted in that lane.
WORK TO BE DONE
Fast forward 10 years later, I find myself in Oakland with a family, doing things I never would have imagined doing. A lot has taken place that has shaped me into who I am. But there has been one common thread from that Summer of 2006 up until now, and that has been my perspective on working and ministry. I think it's definitely a little bit how I am wired, but I have found myself over the years becoming frustrated with people around me who I thought didn't work as hard as I did. Now granted, there were real people who literally didn't work as hard as they should have and some who took advantage of the job. That's never cool, especially when serving in a church (but that's a whole other blog that I will let someone else write).
For the most part, my frustration, although at times came out of a real and sincere holy discontent and a passion for Jesus and His church, was there because I was observing others experience the rest and peace I was chasing after but couldn't seem to ever grasp. I saw them at peace; calm and relaxed and wondered how they could be like that when there was so much to be done! Not that I was always frantic and anxious - but there has been this lingering feeling of unrest. And to make matters worse, to cap it all off - I convinced myself that because it was ministry, because it was for Jesus, I should always be working. How could I rest? I was too busy with important work. There were books to read. Sermons to write. People to disciple. Fires to put out. Students who needed to hear the Gospel. Chairs to stack. Meetings to be lead. Programs to be run. Teams to be trained. Bills to pay. BLAH. BLAH. BLAH. All good stuff? Yeah, sure, of course - most of it at least.
I certainly worked hard. No doubt. But usually at the cost of my health, my sanity, my soul, my family, my future and my joy. Now don't get it too twisted. I had days off, I spent time with the family, had date nights, took vacations (not nearly enough). I don't think the problem was really days off and vacations as much as it was my uneasy, always chasing, rarely quiet soul.
This stuff doesn't happen. People don't just wake up one day only to find themselves a drastically different person. Behind all true change (for better or worse) is beliefs. What you believe will always determine how you behave. It did for me.
To let you inside my head and heart, here are a few of the things I have, one way or another, tricked myself into believing and feeling. Things that I picked up and internalized:
- I felt guilty for simply resting and enjoying things so I worked harder and longer.
- I believed that if I wasn't doing something to move things forward, I was wasting time.
- I believed that if I didn't do it, it wouldn't get done.
- I attached my self-value and importance to busyness - the busier I was, the better I felt about myself.
- I often times mistranslated rest into laziness and therefore began to label others as lazy just because they didn't work like I thought they should work (or how I worked).
- I found myself resting on my work ethic as badges and trophies of my own accomplishment, often times trading in the grace of God for the work of my fingers.
I could go on and on. But as you can see, besides the fact that my heart is still broken and in need of the Gospel more and more, I have built up a wall of reasons to justify the intensity and amount behind my working and striving. These weren't taught in classes. I didn't read these in books. Other than the fact that I convinced myself that these were true - I believe I picked some of false beliefs up from being around others in ministry - especially those I looked up to. If they were doing it, and they loved Jesus, how could it be wrong?
RESTING FROM STRIVING
This has been a process. I mean come on, 10 years into following Jesus and I am now just figuring this part out. It took a while. Too long. But thanks be to God for His faithfulness and patience. He has, by His grace and mercy, let some hard things happen to me and allowed me to do some dumb things in order that I would see clearly - and see clearly I do now!
It was just recently, last week to be exact, that this landed as a real, soul-rattling conviction. And just because I want you to grasp the importance of being around people that are loving Jesus and living in obedience - a major part of why I have felt this burden fall of my shoulders and my perspective shift was because of a close friend, mentor, co-worker, my Pastor, Edward Paz. Yes, it was the hours and hours we have spent together talking. But it was more than that. It was seeing what he did, and more importantly, what he didn't do. It was watching him when he was working and when he wasn't. It was knowing his rhythms and his schedule. To be honest (because there isn't much more I can say to make me look much crazier), I even became frustrated with him because I thought he wasn't working as hard as he should be as a pastor (yeah, I know, who the heck do I think I am)! That small frustration led to conversations that God used to open my eyes and see the rest He offers.
I am not talking about rest as only thought about linked with vacation, being unplugged and away from reality. I am talking about the rest that oozes out of a soul that knows they are justified in God's eyes and doesn't have to prove anything to anyone. I am talking about the rest that says I don't have to be and do everything, I just need to be and do what God is calling me to be and do. I am talking about the rest that allows you to slow down and enjoy this beautiful life. I am talking about soul-rest that doesn't live rushed or frantic but trusts God daily for grace, provision and power. I am talking about the rest that allows you to enjoy the work that God has done and is doing more than striving to do work for Him. I am talking about the rest that is counter-culture, other-worldy. A rest that only God's Spirit can give.
It's important to mention that we have a God who commands us to NOT DO ANYTHING one day a week. !!! That is really, really, really important. But what is equally important as that command is the heart and lifestyle that is implied. Resting has always been a struggle for me because I thought I had to do everything. And the reason I tried to do everything was because, to be honest, I didn't really trust Jesus in all those areas and circumstances. It was a lot more comfortable to maintain control than to trust that God had it covered. A sabbath lifestyle means working hard but also resting hard, trusting God to fill my gaps, work in my voids and bring to fruition what I could never produce on my own. A sabbath lifestyle means being okay with not crossing off everything on my to-do list for the day, and certainly not missing out on enjoying life and loving my family for the sake of accomplishing more tasks that CAN WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW. Jesus is my sabbath rest, I find in Him the freedom, space and power to breathe, slow-down, trust and enjoy. This is the rest I am experiencing and want to experience more and more!
By God's grace I feel like a new person. I am enjoying life more; I am more present with my family, more calm through the day, more joyful and less anxious. I don't have to prove anything to God or to people. My value isn't attached to what I do or don't do, how much I accomplish and how many people applaud me. There is a freedom that comes with this. It's Godly and God-glorifying and it is my prayer that you experience the rest that comes with abiding in Jesus more and more!