I have completed my first full year of church ministry, weird.
I’m still getting used to actually knowing people in the town I occupy. I don’t pay too much attention to people around me when I’m out and about, not because I don’t care but because I don’t expect to recognize anyone.
It is that feeling of isolation amidst the masses, like feeling alone in a crowded room. My tendencies to hibernate and be a homebody have been fostered out of grieving for the community I had in college. The people I hung out with in school always varied, but community was always found. Somehow I allowed myself to believe that once I left campus I would not find community again, but God has built us for community and He has transplanted me into one that is loving and supportive. The thing that keeps me from melding into this community and from forming new communities is the idea that I am my own and I am on my own.
“I am on my own. I am my own.” This sentiment is felt stronger still since I have moved away from family, friends and all that is familiar. I set out on my own. See even there, “on my own”. It is so engrained that I have come on this venture “on my own”, but it is a false engraving on my mindset. I have done nothing “on my own” and never will.
God goes before me and makes the path.
I have become entrenched amidst the independent population and have taken pride in being an “independent individual”. But humans are made for relationship and so cannot sanely carry on by themselves for long. It cripples the individual by creating a self made prison within their independence. When you don’t need anyone or their help, you trap yourself without anyone or their help to help you out. Ironic, no?
Vulnerability is the key. God uses the weak things to shame the strong, the foolish things to shame the proud.
Nothing says shame to independence like vulnerability. In fact vulnerability is viewed as a weakness. Why would any independent person become vulnerable? Why would they begin to tear down their own stronghold? Because I am not my own and neither are you.
Vulnerability is an ugly matter. It comes in the form of tears, weepy voices, snotty noses and puffy eyes. Vulnerability comes in the moments when I want to batten down the hatches and weather whatever storm is ahead in independent silence. It comes when I don’t want the chinks or weaknesses in my armor to show. It comes when keeping a firm and calm resolve would gain me much more ground. It comes because God isn’t concerned with me looking pretty, toughing out the storm, being bullet proof or getting ahead.
God is concerned with being glorified and with taking care of His children. He doesn’t need me to be tear free and have an unblotchy, red face. He needs me to have a tender and gentle heart so that I might hear His voice and understand His priorities. God doesn’t need me to tough out the storm because He is as present in the hurricane as He is in the calm and my strength won’t change the outcome of either. God doesn’t need me to be bullet proof because He will defend me and protect me. He doesn’t need me to get ahead or gain more ground because all too often it is falling off the mountain top that transforms my life more than reaching the summit does.
It is in realizing that I am not my own that I understand more of who I am.
I got a beautiful chance to get alone with God a few weeks ago. It was a cool stormy night that was free of obligations. I decided to go walk on the beach which was almost deserted because of the weather. I started out standing in the receding tide just waiting to hear God’s voice. I rarely take the opportunity to sit in the silence and wait on the Lord. It was beautiful. The way a storm paints the sky when the sun sets always mesmerizes me. What followed was an outpouring of wounds both fresh and scarred. All of it came from this underlining thought that “I am my own”. God tore through that and showed me what I really believe. It was humbling and devastating, but healing as well.
I have been blessed with opportunities to mentor some of our young girls and I recently met with one over tacos. As we shared our weeks with each other I shared some frustrations of life. She wisely reminded me that these frustrations are far from over and that I will need to reside in God even more this next year. It is always a process and one that currently feels like a snail’s pace. I am the new person and even as I close the first year of being new I feel like it will never end. I will always be out of the loop and years behind the long history of our students and our church. That is just how a small town is and it has both benefits and negatives. The biggest negatives is that I am coming from a strong community where everyone started fresh together, where there was no history to be set up against and so quirks and habits were accepted because there was no established “norm” with which to compare. The community before that was one in which I grew up in and so the history there was shared. It is a difficult trade: roots to being uprooted.
Here I am jumping into a position with no history and no roots and so a lot of my quirks and habits are completely different and strange. Most of the time I don’t mind the differences being noted and I know I don’t help myself out (I like to knit and sew, cook, bake, make things, wander and sit at coffee shops). If I’m not careful I might even slip into becoming a filthy hipster (a reference for the college friends). The biggest thing that hurts is that I don’t have a soul near by with whom I share a common history and so the days where I am teased and joked with (all in love), I stand alone.
And there it is again! “I stand alone.” God is breaking me of my dependency on familiarity. I need to be known and I ignorantly choose to find that in family and friends when the only way to be known is to be known by God. He has surrounded me with ample opportunity to be known by Him, but these habits are hard to break. I have never lived alone and yet this past year God placed me in a rental apartment in a retirement like community that is really only used by the elderly who visit during the winter months! No wonder I knit.
Still in all the silence an elderly community brings I struggle with seeking God out in the quiet places. I pump up the music and bring out the distractions waiting for the perfect community to find me. God’s answer?
Hosea 2:6&14-15 ”Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way…. Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the dessert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.”
He has taken me far from a place that was my own and from family and friends so that I will remember my first love and hold tightly to His promise. He is removing independence and lies I have held onto and He is reminding me of who I am.
I pray that as this second year begins I remember that I am not alone or on my own and when I feel battered and bruised with no roots to hold me down that I will cling to the God who is mighty to save, the One who transplanted me here with a plan in mind and that I will “remember even in the darkness what He has shown me in the light” (thank you mama and Mumford & Sons).