Since I didn't formally write or create any New Years Resolutions of my own this year, I also didn't do a formal review of my strengths and weaknesses, of my mistakes and my breakthroughs for the year. It's probably good that I didn't do this, although if you did do this kind of life assessment, that's fine too. This is a judgment call we have to make. For me, I don't trust my judgment, lately; and I'm not sure that's a bad thing.
I've been too wrong about what's been happening in my life, and here's why. These last couple years our route through ministry, jobs, relationships, and challenges has been quite a winding one. Nothing has been from point A directly to point B. And I'm not even sure what the points are anymore. It's like when you get into a conversation with someone and you wind up talking about some things that surprise you, things you hadn't been consciously thinking about, and someone says to you, "Get to the point, will you?!"
Well, I would get to the point if I was clear about the facts and the conclusions and the whole picture. But right now, at the beginning of 2009, I see my life as a rather big gray cloud. Nothing is very clear or straight or obvious to me. And a recent new friend helped me deal with this supposedly negative state I'm in, and he doesn't even know that he is a friend of mine.
Dave Schmelzer pastors a church in the Boston area, and has had an interesting background of different jobs and ministry positions, successes and failures, and he even has a temperament that may be somewhat similar to mine, from what I gather. He also has recently written a book called Not the Religious type- Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist. I picked this book up from the library, several days before New Year's Eve, not knowing that it was significantly an answer to my prayers. I only knew that it was a type of memoir (and I had been into the memoir-reading stage, if you recall).
I read the book, but really, it seemed more like I was in the pages of the book, wandering through his experiences with him as he recounted them, nodding my head in agreement and echoing, "Yup, been there too. I know just what you mean."
The book is probably meant to "minister" more to the hearts of atheists and to people who have noticed the real weaknesses, insecurities and biases of Christians and therefore have not wanted to join in with our "group". Schmelzer refers the reader to M. Scott Peck's writings, and to some interesting ways we can look at how Christian sub cultures form and why many spurn the journey to knowing God if it means you have to be ignorant, or a rigid rule follower, or whatever weak area you noticed in a Christian's life or thinking.
It's not his story of how he became a Christian that I understand and can identify with. It's what happened to him after he said yes to God, after he said yes to ministry, yes to taking risks for God, and yes to the Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. What he shares, as you get to the middle of the book, is the weird, meandering route God seems to take us on, and the disappointments and misunderstandings that can occur when you set out to follow God, thinking Of course God will bless this. This is a good thing I'm trying to do for Him- and then God doesn't show up.
When we attempt "good" things for God and we don't see His blessing, it can do more than surprise us. It can set us back aways; set us back in our desire to trust Him and our desire to take a risk again. Oh, we'll keep following Him- those of us who are Followers of Christ with a capital F. But we may not want to be gutsy for God anymore- not if gutsy now seems to mean foolish and naive. Sometimes this is where we look at what we think were mistakes, because it didn't turn out successfully, and we say, "Well I'm not going to make that mistake again."
My husband Bill and I have rather mixed feelings about our past of ten years of pastoral (renewal) ministry in New England, and our ten years of house remodeling as a means to make a living, and our different volunteer ministry positions we've recently held. I have mixed feelings about what I focused on these last couple years- the writing and the speaking and the emphasis on ministering to women particularly in the areas of fear, anxiety, depression and worry (These seem to be the doozys, don't they?).
I feel conflicted about my history because I know I set out to do something good, after responding to what I thought was God's prodding, and I don't know how much good occurred. Oh, I know there were bits here and some breakthroughs there and testimonies from people over there who said it helped. But really, I look back and I don't see it all in such a bright light.
But when I read this book, (I also went to his church's website and clicked on some of his latest sermons), I found myself seeing my journey in a whole new light. Schmelzer also set out to do great things for God. Some things worked. Many didn't. He took risks for God. He wanted to serve full time in ministry but money wasn't always released to the situation. He had friends who also set out in ministry and they failed, or the money wasn't enough, or they had to go back and regroup.
What's the truth about our progress- if we can call it progress? Scmelzer is not after the kind of Truth "that treats capital-T Truth as something we can master, get outside of, hold in our hands, and survey from all angles until it's both tame and uninteresting". No, he's joined in at a stage of understanding that embraces knowing God without having to know all the answers.
Sometimes God just brings you into a season where things are not connecting easily or effectively. Relationships can be strained. Doors don't open easily, if at all. You can be temped to think the truth is He doesn't love you or like you anymore. But really, the truth might just be that we don't like God very much, at this painfully awkward time in our life. That's okay, don't like me- I think God would say. But keep talking to Me.
So I am still talking to God, only I am not asking Him much about my past anymore. It's all a gray cloud, remember? But I think Dave Schmelzer had those days too. And the interesting thing is that by him sharing about those disappointments, I was encouraged. He wrote about pursuing the relationship with God and how we find that sometimes "God takes us someplace destabilizing", but that "the road to that destabilization is paved with everything we've wanted in life: love, connection, answered prayers, and encouragement that we're in good hands".
Now if we get all of the just mentioned, why would we need Answers about where we went wrong or what we did right? Even if God told me, "Now , Lauren, when you did this, in your past, that was right", I would be tempted to just go out and do it again exactly as done in the past. Because that would be an answer with a capital A, and those answers tend to be safe and predictable. But it wouldn't be hearing and walking and living by faith.
So seeing my past as a rather murky gray cloud is not such a bad thing. I don't have to know what I did right, what exactly I did wrong, where I could have done it better. That's a bit calculating and heartless, now that I think about it- because it shows I'm more interested in the success of my journey with God than in the joy and the relationship I've had knowing God through the pain and the gain.
My appetite has been whetted to go out and "do it again". What is the "it" that I'm going to do once more? I'm not sure. Yet. But I know the Who that I am going to be with when I do it once more. God is by my side. He's in front of me, especially. And He's even covering my past, gray murky cloud that it is. I'd say that I pretty much have it made- even if I don't have it all clear.