I was burned out
And did not want to admit it.
Weariness had become my constant companion, tugging at the edges of the energy I could muster for the next ministry event or relational interaction to come. It felt easier to blame the exhaustion on a hectic work schedule, or difficult interpersonal dynamics, or anything else that felt outside of my control.
If I could blame someone or something else, then maybe I wouldn’t have to acknowledge the pressure within myself that kept me grasping and striving for the security I longed for and yet seemed just out of reach. I knew something was desperately wrong with the way I was living life and doing ministry, but I was in a fog that constantly clouded my vision.
From time to time, the fog would lift and I would be able to see life with more clarity. Many of these moments occurred for me while attending retreats at The Journey.
While sitting in sessions and living communally with other ministry leaders, I heard teaching and participated in discussions about leading from the overflow of time spent with God, the value of “being” with God rather than “doing” for God, and of the importance of rest. These truths were so simple and yet they seemed so beyond my grasp. I was able to understand intellectually that God loves me just as I am and not because of what I do for Him or for people, but there was a level of understanding or “knowing” God that continued to elude me.
A turning point
About midway through my time at The Journey, a seed that had been planted began to break through the parched soil of my soul. A tiny prick of an invitation to rest began to take shape in my heart and I began to wonder if I should take a sabbatical. The thought was terrifying and intriguing all at the same time!
I had heard of people taking sabbaticals before and had always thought that in principle they were a good thing. But when faced with God’s invitation to me to spend extended time alone with Him, fear assaulted me!
Why is it that when taking a step to do something we have never done before we tend to turn more to fear and control than trusting that God is out for our good, or that He may actually be inviting us into something we deeply desire but aren’t yet aware of?
Unfortunately, my picture of God often looks more like a harsh disciplinarian than the God of compassion and tenderness. I tend to see things through a lens that leads me to think He is taking something away from me because I have been disobedient, or He’s testing me and I’m afraid I’ll fail Him.
I’m afraid that He will expose the ways I have grasped for security that I would rather keep hidden — my desire to control what others thought of me, my finding value in my identity of my ministry position, the pressure within myself to meet others needs, the use of busyness to define my value, the list goes on and on…
Stepping into this place of vulnerability with God brought with it an awareness that while I longed for intimacy with Him, I also feared it because it meant releasing my grip on all that I wanted to control. And yet, this invitation also created space for me to experience the intimacy and authenticity with God that I most desired.
Wait, you actually like me God?
What I learned through taking a sabbatical and spending extended time with God was that God really did just want to spend time with me. He longed for me to rest from the frenetic pace of trying to “do” for Him. And as I spent time with God, I was met with deep and abiding friendship, not discipline and condemnation.
In that place of friendship, I began “to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). I began to “know God” through my experience of Him rather than through what I knew intellectually.
And in that knowing I received the intimacy that my heart most longed for.