‘Tis So (Bitter)Sweet
I cleaned out my office at the church over the weekend.
Yes, I stopped working at the church in mid-May and it’s now mid-October. Yes, I kept my things in my office for five months after they laid me off. Yes, I realize how lame that is.
Have I ever mentioned how much I loved that office? After years in cubicles and shared office spaces, I was blessed with a beautiful corner office complete with 8 six-foot windows, cool green walls, and a door; a real door, with a lock and key. I had a fun, modern, dark wood-stained desk, bookshelf, and side table. I had a pretty rug, a framed diploma, art work, and special décor. Nearly every morning when I walked in that office, I thought about what a great perk the office was. I might’ve been at the bottom of the heap and struggling to get by, but I had a great office.
Because I still planned to volunteer and be as involved as I could be, the church welcomed me leaving my things for as long as I wanted. I didn’t have another office yet, so I figured I’d wait until I had somewhere to move my things before I cleared out. After my last day as a paid staff member, I found it difficult to go back into the office. I dipped in here and there to pick up something I needed or use the computer while I was already at church, but I didn’t use it as a place to work.
A few weeks ago, I realized that it was time to move my things out. I mentioned it to my boyfriend, asking if he’d be willing to help me. He graciously agreed to lend me his truck and his muscle. It turns out that I needed his truck and his muscle a lot less than his shoulder to cry on. (Three boxes and a few framed pictures don’t actually require a truck or much muscle…)
As I packed up the boxes, memories flooded over me. I remembered the tremendous sense of hope and anticipation I had while I worked at the church. I felt under-appreciated and under-utilized during my years there, but I also realized that everyone has to pay their dues. I threw myself into the work, trying to make myself valuable to my colleagues, using much of my free time to gain more knowledge that would help the church, fasting and praying, and believing that one day it would all pay off. As I packed my things, an overwhelming sense of failure gripped me. No matter how hard I tried, what I did, how I turned myself inside out, nothing was ever enough. In the end, I didn’t get promoted or patted on the back; I got laid off. One minute my boyfriend and I were quietly packing and the next minute I was sobbing, overcome with sadness and grief. Within a few seconds he was hugging me and telling me it would be okay and letting me cry. He said all the right things and got me laughing at myself.
As I went back to packing, the thought crossed my mind that I needed to let go of the church (the past) and grab hold of this man (possibly the future). I thought about that for a few minutes, trying to think of how to do so. But then another voice broke through my thoughts. This Voice said to let go of the idol that I had unwittingly made the church and to grab hold of God. I didn’t mean to make the church into an idol, but to base my sense of success or failure upon what they thought of me was to make the church an idol. My sense of success or failure should be based purely upon what God thinks of me. Am I at peace with God? Do I feel that He is pleased with me?
The hope and anticipation I’d felt began to come back a little. This time they are related to the future possibility of success as I walk with the Lord, rather than as I climb a man-made ladder toward a job title or salary range. And no, I won’t exchange the idol I made the church for a man. If I replace the church with him, then I put him in an impossible situation of trying to meet all my needs and expectations and therefore set the relationship up for failure. He is a part of my life (a very good part), but he is not everything. If I grab hold of God with both hands, trusting Him as my source and supply and provider and protector, then Rick gets to be this great guy who is fun to be with and who might be a great partner in life, rather than the one person who has to provide everything for me. It allows God to be God and frees us up to enjoy our budding relationship and the journey.
I believe God has a ministry for me beyond the walls of my church. I believe God has ordered my steps up to this point and He hasn’t wasted a moment. With the action of moving out of my beloved office at the church, I let my fingers slip from the grip they had on the church and turned my focus totally upon the Lord. With two hands, I grabbed firmly onto Him.
As we drove home, I was quiet and teary-eyed. I couldn’t speak the things I was thinking to him because of the height of my emotion. As I reflected on my years there, I began listing the good things that happened during my time there. I learned so much about ministry, working with people, administration, communication and organizational unity, worship and raising up leaders, and so much more. I thought through those things, but then The Voice broke through my swirling thoughts with one truth: “You learned to trust ME.”
Oh yes. I learned to trust the Lord. This trust lesson has been a hard one that has taken many years. I thought I trusted God when I started at the church, but I still trusted myself. I had enough natural gifts and talents to do many of my job responsibilities well, but God stretched and stretched me so many times, teaching me that no amount of education or aptitude can make a successful ministry. He let me walk in my weaknesses until I learned to look to Him, trust Him, dive into my relationship with Him, and let Him become my best friend.
I learned to trust the Lord. And because I learned to trust Him, I put away my boxes with a sense of peace and calm, knowing that a season of preparation has ended and a new season is beginning. With hope and anticipation, I look forward to what God has for me next.
’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!
O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!
Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.
I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end!
-Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882