The Battle on Two Fronts

My husband and I went out for breakfast this morning to celebrate his birthday. As our slow_down_sign_reed_college_portland_oregon_2013conversation drifted to his recent retirement and the changes we are experiencing, he commented on how nice it is to be able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on a weekday morning, having nothing he has to rush to do. As I thought about his comment, I became increasingly aware of my own state of being. I was revving up. We had finished our meal, and I was physically preparing to rush on to the next thing. Except, there wasn’t a “next thing.”

It seems to me that my body is hard-wired to rush. It’s not that I have a lot of nervous energy…I’m not a leg-jiggler or a foot-tapper. I don’t drum my fingers. I’m not even particularly energetic. But my body is always poised to move on to whatever is next on the to-do list.

As a wife and mother,  a homemaker, a businesswoman-turned-pastor, I have been busy the majority of my life. I learned early on that time management was essential to successfully juggling my varied roles and responsibilities. My days were for the most part carefully planned to maximize every minute so as to accomplish not only what I needed to get done, but also have time for what I wanted to do. It was not uncommon for me to pack more into a day than was feasible to do. I’ve conditioned myself to be productive, and to be productive requires being on the move.

My life has changed significantly in the last six months. I quit my marketplace job to spend more time in ministry. After two years of providing care for my mother, she suffered a stroke and died. Subsequent weeks were spent tying up the loose ends of her affairs. Then my husband retired, and the holidays were upon us. With the whirlwind of activity behind us, we are settling into a new routine, a slower pace. Time to relax over a leisurely meal, or go to a movie in the middle of the day. The problem is that my body doesn’t know how to do that. I feel as though I’m fighting a battle to make myself slow down. That’s the battle on the physical front.

But the battle is also being fought on another front, a spiritual front. All this busyness I’ve prided myself on over the years has also conditioned my spiritual self to stay on the move. I devoured books, yet couldn’t really tell you what I’d read. I would have a revelation from scripture, but wouldn’t remember it days later. Rather than take the time to process what I read and perceived, I was rushing ahead to the next spiritual thought or epiphany. Now I am learning how to sit quietly and listen–really listen–for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Solitude is becoming something I desire regularly.

Equally important, I am learning to be still and truly listen to others. Just as I rushed physically from one thing to the next, I also rushed conversations. The temptation to think about how I wanted to respond or simply being impatient to move on to another topic meant that I often didn’t give attention to the other person’s words, much less to what might be hiding behind them.

I’m learning that it’s impossible to be attentive to the present moment when the body and the spirit are persistently rushing on to the next thing on the to-do list or on to the next thought. This business of slowing down is hard though! The battle against pushing forward, refusing to idolize both physical and spiritual busyness, is intense.

The lesson that needs to settle deep in my spirit is this: What’s next is not guaranteed. Only this moment is real. To rush past it is to lose the battle and forfeit the opportunity to experience God in the here and now. And so each evening I thank God for all the blessings of the day, the ones I caught and the ones I missed, asking him to reveal those overlooked blessings so that I may be consciously grateful for them, too. My prayer is that this tool–this examen at the end of the day–will help me win the battle of being fully present on both fronts, physically and spiritually. Amen and amen.

 

The power of growth

“Never forget, growth changes everything.”

That’s the statement that launches chapter four of Larry Osborne’s book, Sticky Teams. While he is referring to numerical growth and the challenges it presents, I think the same statement applies equally to spiritual growth.

I’m convinced that the act of serving plays a vital role in spiritual growth. I often say that we actually stunt our spiritual formation when we choose not to serve. Stepping out of our comfortable structures and patterns of living in order to meet the needs of another can be a powerful catalyst for spiritual growth. Case in point…

Six years ago I stepped way out of my comfort zone and went on a mission trip to China. It entailed a lot of “firsts:” my first mission trip, my first time to leave North America, my first transoceanic flight, the first time in a country where I couldn’t speak the language. As I got in the customs line at the Beijing airport, I realized that I was standing under the sign that read “foreigner.” I hadn’t made a mistake; I did belong in that line. It shocked me–another first of many that I would encounter during the next two weeks. But I saw God in faces and in places I would never have dreamed… and I was forever changed by the experience.

I returned home and spent the next six months struggling to shrink back into what had been the comfortable pattern of my existence. I could not do it. It seemed the world I live in had suddenly expanded exponentially, as had the God I love and serve. But, in all actuality, neither had grown a bit. It was me who had grown. And that growth changed everything.

Prior to my trip to China, I was quite content with ministry inside the walls of my church. After returning, I could no longer settle for that. Now I’m committed to helping ministry leaders develop systems and processes that encourage spiritual formation, equipping the saints of God to do the ministry of God outside the church walls as well as within. I’ve seen the incredible power of God when I stop clinging to the comfortably familiar.

Do you encounter team members who are resistant to change, afraid it will disrupt the security of their status quo? Do you notice those you lead stifling a yawn or two when you talk about ministry? Has their ministry gotten stale? (Has yours?)

It’s time to coax the yawners and resisters out of their cozy comfort zone! It’s time to lead them to experience a bigger world and a bigger God than the one to which they’ve grown too accustomed.

You don’t have to go to China. Just go to a homeless shelter, a federal housing project, a food pantry… not just for an hour or two one day, but for several weeks running.

Give them time and opportunity to see God in faces and places they would never dream.

And then, get ready…  Remember, growth changes everything!