About nine months ago I stepped down from my position as a pastor at a wonderful small church because our family was headed for Kenya, or so we thought. The world turned upside down due to Covid, and our Kenya plans fell through. Thankfully, Ali found a job teaching music locally, but for the first time as an adult I found myself unemployed.
The past nine months have been the longest that I have gone without steady work since I was in high school, and without work I have been given the unexpected gift of having time and space to reflect. This was certainly not a gift I wanted, but in God’s grace I believe it was a gift that I needed. I would like to share the most significant thing I have learned about myself during this season in hopes that it will be helpful for you as well. So here goes.
Somewhere in my childhood I picked up on the message that I should live my life in such a way that when I died I would hear God say to me, “well done my good and faithful servant.” The desire to hear those words and to please God was burned into my psyche, and they drove me to incessantly need to be doing something productive. There was always more to be done if I wanted to get the eternal divine “attaboy” someday.
This drive became so strong that at one point in high school my parents sat me down because they were concerned I was doing too much. I promptly informed them that the Holy Spirit had told me to do each and every one of the things I was involved in, to which they had no reply. I got up and kept right on doing, and I didn’t stop until nine months ago when I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself out of work.
When it sunk in that I didn’t have a job to go to, I kind of panicked. At first, I told myself I was panicking because we needed money and health insurance, but that was only part of the truth. When I was finally able to be honest with myself, which took a while, I realized I was panicked because without having what I deemed to be “important” things to do, I felt completely lost. I felt guilty. I felt like I was wasting my life. Like I was going to miss out on hearing those words which I had spent so many years striving for.
What I didn’t realize in my panic was that God was inviting me into an intentional season of sitting with my uncomfortableness of not-doing. And after nine long months, this week I had somewhat of an epiphany moment. It struck me that I have been longing to hear God say the wrong thing. I have been yearning to hear God validate a single part of my existence, the things that I do. But the things that I do are not a complete or accurate reflection of who I am as a person, although I often fall into the trap of letting my work define my personhood.
As I sat silently in a small chapel waiting for my daughter to get done with preschool so I could take her home and make her lunch and tidy the house and play make believe games and do silly crafts all afternoon something dawned on me. What I want to hear from God someday is not “well DONE my good and faithful servant,” but rather “well LIVED my beloved son.”
I am slowly coming to understand that God cares about the fullness of my being. I am more than what I DO and what I accomplish. I sense an invitation by the Holy Spirit to think less one-dimensionally about what matters to God and by extension what should matter to us as followers of Jesus.
I found myself wondering this week if the Church’s emphasis on the tangible, physical growth of the Kingdom of God is a reflection of our spiritual blindness to the hidden and mysterious nature of God’s Kingdom. I wonder about the ways that we are blind to the unquantifiable importance of stillness, peace, attentive listening, beauty and rest. I wonder if our emphasis on God’s words, “well done my good and faithful servant,” is a way of justifying our Western obsession with being busy and our need for validation and achievement.
At Jesus’ baptism, before his ministry had even begun, God declared “This is my Son whom I love, and with him I am well pleased.” Before Jesus does anything, God affirms His love for him. God’s love is not based on what Jesus has done, is doing, or will one day do. When God’s voice thunders from the Heavens, He has nothing to say about doing. Instead he says, “this is my beloved son.” What matters is relationship not resume. Relationship, the very thing that often gets put aside because we are so busy doing and building and working to build our eternal resume.
So friends, if you too have grown up longing to hear God say, “well done my good and faithful servant,” I challenge you to stop and think and reflect. Maybe there’s more to the story. Maybe there’s more to God. Maybe there’s more to you. Maybe there’s more to living than building our resume. Maybe there’s space in the life abundant for relationship and rest and reflection and a for whole life well lived.
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