Confessions from a pastor who was exhausted by caring too much about what people think about me and7
To check out the first blog in the series "Sabbatical Musings" click here
I did not write this because I want to just beat up on myself for my shortcomings and I did not go into sabbatical looking to focus on me. My desire was to see Jesus and more specifically to see Jesus REALLY BIG again.
In His mercy, He revealed much of Himself, but along that road God's Spirit really caused me to understand what Paul's words meant in 1 Timothy 1:15 when Paul calls himself "the chief-most of all sinners"
Like many of you, I have read that verse and wondered at times "is Paul using hyperbole here? Surely that guy can't be the chief most of sinners, right?" I mean, I have met some absolute knuckleheads in my life and I always seem to spot one in particular when I look in the mirror who probably deserves that mantle more than Paul.
I started out sabbatical with a simple prayer: God show me more of yourself and let my heart once again serve you from a place of intimacy, delight and help me to rediscover the joy of service
Well, God answered that prayer. But He took my on a circuitous route to get there. I would even go so far as to say it was a confusing course. But as I look back and reflect, I can also say that it was a necessary course and God had to take me some places that I really didn't want to go to get me to where He wanted me to be on the way to answering that prayer above.
I did not go on sabbatical because of any major sin in my life. I was not burned out our exhausted (or at least, I did't think I was) and although I set out with some goals, they were very general goals. I just wanted to engage the Lord through Scripture and enjoy Him. I did not feel any pressures put on me from the congregation to return with some sort of Yoda like wisdom or to have an overhaul in my soul.
But, an odd thing happened. Perhaps a better way to say it is- an uncomfortable thing happened. As I used my freed up schedule to spend more time with Jesus, instead of seeing Him for how great He was, I just kept seeing my sinfulness for as sinful as it truly was. It was like that moment in Isaiah 6 when God peels back the curtain and shows Isaiah His glory and Isaiah becomes undone in God's presence. God was not revealing little portions at a time. He was shining light on areas of my heart that I didn't even know that were there. He was revealing the sin underneath the sin, if that makes sense.
As it was happening, I did not like it. But I also realized that Paul was not using hyperbole when he referred to himself at the chiefmost of sinners. He simply saw God in His holiness and it made him deeply acquainted with 2 things:
1. How brilliantly holy God is
2. How often Paul is not
And I was able to see this. I also complained about it why it was happening. I felt like:
- God, I didn't go on sabbatical to be LESS at rest than when I was working
- God, I didn't set out to engage you so that we could talk about me
- And perhaps most confusing- I just wanted to see Jesus and His goodness, not having a mirror held up to my own ugliness.
But, the Trinity is not a democracy and God did not ask for my vote regarding what He wanted to show me or how He wanted to show it
The gist of the story is that if I wanted to have my joy kindled anew, and if I wanted a fresh heart for serving Him and His church- if I really wanted that intimacy that I claimed to crave- that He had to show me things that were getting in the way of that intimacy and joy of service before He was going to rekindle that spark. He had to show me things that were getting in the way to begin with before I was able to get to the other side.
As He peeled back the curtain, He showed me several tributaries flowing into one common stream.
Without even realizing it, I cared way too much about what people thought about me and allowed that to drive far too much of my thinking and take up far too much space in my head
This took on several different looks:
- People pleasing
- Wanting to be liked potentially at the expense of wanting to be obedient
- Not doing, not saying, not acting on certain things out of fear of rejection and not being liked
As I started the journey of digging into the heart underneath the heart of what I was feeling, it became increasingly obvious that those things were just symptoms of a larger issue going on in the heart. So, I started asking myself questions like:
- Why is it so important to be liked?
- Why fight for man's approval when I am already approved by God through the completed work of Christ?
- Why does rejection (real or perceived) feel so personal?
- Why is it so easy to surrender my joy over someone not liking me?
As I began to ask these questions one thing became very clear: this was exhausting and I didn't even realize that I was exhausted or how long it had been an issue
Another thing that became clear is that this issue had been able to fester and go undetected for far longer than I thought. I was carrying some wounds that I did not even know I still carried.
Performance related exhaustion that stems from caring too much about the approval of man does not just happen in a vacuum. My desire in this blog series is to be honest about the things the Lord did in my heart during sabbatical, not to beat myself up. The reality is, I had faced more than my fair share of rejection and hardship and many of these feelings and faulty wiring of motivations stemmed from things that were VERY REAL and not just perceived:
- My first full time ministry experience ended very very badly. I was so young and naive in my first position and loved my church and thought that this honeymoon period of ministry would last forever. It didn't
- After investing several years in my first ministry position and developing some really deep relationships, I was STUNNED at how quickly people just "moved on" because I no longer provided these people what they wanted out of me. I thought these were all friendships that would last forever. They didn't
- Planting a church (10 years ago now) is a weird animal. There are people that you think will stick around forever and are in it for the long haul. They weren't
- Merging churches is statistically the hardest thing to do in ministry. I have heard statistics as high as 90% of pastors who lead a church through a merger are gone or out of ministry in 3 years. I'm not some statistic but I also wasn't as prepared as I thought I was
- I dealt with some seriously wolf-like behavior on a few occasions where some people got close only because of jockeying for position and turned against me with vitriol when things did not go their way. I was not prepared for this- I didn't even have a category for it in my brain. Seriously.
- I lost friendships during the merger that I never thought I would lose. Once again, I allowed my heart to actually believe that the people in my life were going to be there forever. I was actually stunned by some of the close friendships that fell apart simply because of a merger (This is a weird one because I would say that just as many friendships that died, I also gained because of meeting so many precious precious saints through this merger)
I'm sure it's easy to see how these things, one after another, could lead to a skewed perspective. But I never really allowed myself to feel these things. I just kept grinding it out because I thought that is what a mature Christian does. (it's not)
But, by not dealing with these things, to my intense surprise, they did not just go away. They were still down in there with all sorts of other junk. But the problem was- now that I am on sabbatical, I can't just ignore them, get back to work, throw myself into busyness and carry on my way. Nope. Jesus was too good to allow that. In His grace, He handed me a shovel and told me that it was time to start digging.
As I began to dig, I realized the heart behind my performance related issues and deep, unhealthy desire to be liked:
I just didn't want to feel anymore loss. So, to prevent that, I tried to become all things to all people- but not in the biblical way that Paul talks about
As I allowed myself the freedom to feel and the time to reflect, I realized that by not dealing with the mountain of junk that was just getting bigger and bigger and by stuffing it, it was bringing me to a place of emotional un-health where I was on a hamster wheel of performance and didn't even realize that I was on a wheel, or that I was running or what I was running from.
So, the big question I kept coming back to was/is: what do I do with this now that I have been made aware of it?
Well, acknowledging it and confessing it was probably a good place to start. I have already done that in my own heart but I felt led to be vulnerable and lay it out before others.
The bigger, and more theological piece was: I needed to find out- what it was that was keeping my heart in a place of fighting for approval rather than accepting the approval that is mine in Christ? If you're struggling with the kind of stuff I am writing about here, I would encourage you to have the courage to ask yourself the same question. It's not an easy question to ask yourself or to allow honest reflection over, but I promise you that in the long run, it is easier than living on a hamster wheel of seeking the approval of man.
Another big question it led to was- how do I change this? How do I deal with it in a healthy manner that begins a process of healing and transformation?
I've seen people try the approach of being hardened to people's thoughts. You know, the kind of folks who tell you every 10 minutes that they don't care what anyone thinks about them. But obviously, it's very important to that person for YOU to know that they don't care what people think about them- showing the unfortunate irony: they care far more about what people think about them than they are willing to admit and maybe more than they are aware, even to the point where they develop defense mechanisms to try to convince themselves that they don't really care.
But, they do care. A lot. And so do I. I don't think the answer is to become a dismissive person who casts off other people's thoughts or treats them as unimportant. That surely does not reflect the heart of Christ.
I found what I believe to be a healthy approach in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5:
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, butI am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronouncejudgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things nowhidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one willreceive his commendation from God.
So, Paul has some pretty healthy perspective here:
- It is a very small thing what other people think
- He does not say that "it is nothing". He just puts it in right perspective and says, "it's not nothing but its also not everything"
- Paul does not spend time mulling over what other people think about him (sounds nice, right?)
- This alone does not make Paul innocent
- Paul had learned the art of trusting that the One who judges and justifies is God, so he does not have to become fixated on other people's judgments because God is a much more fair and gracious judge of character and motive than man
As I began to reflect on these things, I began to climb out of the pit. Instead of going to Scripture and only seeing my own shortcomings and failures I was able to see the radiance of Jesus. But He had to take me down to the crossroads to get there. I suspect that I will end up at these crossroads again throughout life.
But as He began to peel back these layers of the onion I call life, He was not done with the shovel. He began to reveal that when we put too much stock in what man thinks the first thing that suffers is that we begin to put too little stock in what God thinks. That can lead to some issues and the Lord had me on this time of sabbatical where there was nowhere to go but to face the issues of where I had subjegated obedience to God beneath fear of man and to address it head on. That will be tomorrow's entry in Sabbatical Musings.
A few questions for you to consider:
- If God wanted to get ahold of your heart and do some digging, would you be willing to slow down and let Him dig?
- Would you allow it even if it didn't feel very good?
- Would you allow it even if it seemed that you had to dive into darkness before emerging to a newer, fresher, brighter light? (it's worth it)
- If you are someone who spends a lot of time fixated on what other people think about you, have you ever just stopped and asked yourself why it's so important to you?
- If God did reveal things like these hidden in your heart, would you seek Gospel change?
- Are there any areas where you are giving God less than your best because you are more concerned with what other people think than what God thinks?
- Do you TRULY believe that God is loving and that if He wants to reveal something to you it is because He desires something greater for you, not because He wants to hurt you?
- If you do put too much stock in "being liked", isn't it exhausting? Don't you believe that the God of grace wants something greater for His kids than to run around feeling exhausted?
Well, see you tomorrow as I get into specifics of areas that can suffer when we put too much stock in man's approval
I love you Redeemer Family and can't wait to see you next week,