Be Patient With The Process

I don’t write on here as often as I used to. But, I’d like to share with you what I’ve been processing over the last year as a believer, husband, father, and pastor. Not about the specifics of the major events that we’ve all witnessed, but the emotional process we go through as people. I’ve heard an overwhelming echo of “People have hurt me during this last year. I didn’t expect that as all of this unfolded.” I get it and have experienced it as well. When we open up our lives it can be beautiful and messy all at the same time.

While it’s easy to focus on the chaos (and almost impossible to avoid it with TV, news, and social media), I have hope for the future of our faith, trust in an amazing God, and optimism for the local church and world around us. I believe in you. It’s okay to wrestle with all the things swirling around. Many of you have had difficulty opening up to others because the climate is pretty hostile. You’re not alone.

You see, for the past 22 years, professional ministry has been the vehicle by which I’ve opened up my life and shared Jesus with others. The very way I came to faith was through the example of ministers & pastors who showed me a different way by being vulnerable and opening up their lives. That different way of following Jesus has changed my life and trajectory forever.

One thing I’ve learned during my time in ministry about relationships is, to be effective, you have to open up a window into your day to day life. If you or I want to have any kind of meaningful relationships, we have to open up and share who we are with someone else. Some would call this being authentic. Others may use words like relevant, real, or relatable to describe this way of connection. The tension comes as you allow access to your life in ways that can be delightful as well as destructive. What do I mean? Well…

Giving people a front row seat to your wins and losses isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’ve ever opened up to people you know the joy and sorrow this can bring. That level of access will breed friendships along with foes. Some will draw close and become dear friends. The flip-side are people who will critique your every move. From parenting to professional life they will express the way they could’ve done it better. You probably have someone in your circle who occasionally  informs you of how they’d handle that situation you experienced differently. I like to say they seem to have the spiritual gift of making you feel a little “less than.” 

Even the people we let in and become friends don’t always end up the way we hoped. Over the last few years speaking with fellow pastors, I’ve heard the accounts of people who got close, only to eventually hurt them and/or their family on their way out as they left their church. Often times this happens out of the blue and without any warning signs and they feel like they need to guard themselves. When you’re wounded by someone, you most likely tend to put your guard up. Over the last year with tensions high and often only a keyboard & screen between them, people have acted and posted in ways that have wounded those they’re closest to. These kinds of moments in relationships leave us asking, “How much access should I really give people? And if I do open the door, can I trust them not to hurt me?”

This creates a scenario where many put up walls, leading to loneliness and cynicism. Maybe you’ve experienced this. Ed Stetzer shares about this feeling particularly for pastors, “There is discouragement and loneliness in ministry. It appears that the larger the church the more present the loneliness. Pastoring is difficult, and family life is a fishbowl—.”

He’s not wrong. 

But loneliness isn’t exclusive to those in ministry. I’ve heard it from teachers, therapists, nurses, ship yard workers. This feeling is what myself and many of you reading have wrestled with. The truth is we are built to be in community, but the way community looks and happens right now has shifted drastically. In the process, relationships have been pushed to the limit. The shutdowns and isolation only amplified that. Admittedly, I expected more of people’s character, loyalty, and wherewithal. Maybe my expectations were too high? I believed the best about people and in a few cases (not many) it left me feeling pretty disappointed. I haven’t given up on them. I hope those I’ve let down haven’t given up on me. That’s the way of being a believer. You’ll do anything for others to find & follow Jesus. Trying to believe the best about people and not taking sides, but instead having conversations, can be a lonely place for you and I.

I was told by a mentor, at the onset of deciding to be a pastor, “Ministry and following Jesus will sometimes be the loneliest place you’ve ever been. Fight against it every day or it could overtake you.” Those words echo through my mind every morning as I start my day getting quiet and talking with God. If you’ve felt lonely or let down during the last year, you understand it too. I pray it doesn’t overtake you either. Stay strong.

During that quiet time a few months back, I asked God, “With life being so heavy already, why would you allow everything else to happen to people over the last year? Shut downs. Virus. Racial tensions. War on the very concept of truth. Politics getting muddied with your church & faith. God, don’t you see the world is hurting? People are feeling isolated and alone. Why not just relent? Dear God, please relent and bring peace amongst your people. Please bring your people, our city, and your churches back to where they need to be.”

After weeks of praying this, I had this overwhelming prompting to leave the office early and get outside, alone with God, and listen. Moments into sitting on the beach it was clear. 

His answer? “I am.”

“You are?!?” Um, this wasn’t the response I was anticipating. I piped back, “How are you bringing peace when I spoke on the phone recently with a friend as his dad died from Covid? When I held the hand of a dying friend who was a week later taken by cancer? When I buried 3 friends to suicide in less than a month? What about the marriages that have ended because of the strain of this year? What about the people who want to leave our church because we weren’t political enough for them? Or that if we address anything in the world at all and they’ll possibly leave? The countless people who’ve been radio silent? I consider them not just our church, but our family. They’re my brothers and sisters and I miss them. Yeah your church will make it through these times, but at large across the globe people are wounded and tired. What are you doing about that?!? Huh!?”

“I am bringing peace. My heart breaks with you and this world. I have never left my church. It’s my church. You are my people. Remember that. It’s all under control. Trust me.”

“Hmmmm. Under control?” I thought.

Unsatisfied with the answers I was getting I turned open my Bible to try and find affirmation for my feelings to convince God why He was wrong and I was right. I’m sure none of you reading have EVER done that before *sarcasm* I apologize if I just tarnished your idea of spiritual leaders. Pastors are human and we have moments where we don’t get it either. Welcome to the club. We are all dumpster fires, loved by the Divine. 

As I opened my Bible, I was led to Luke chapter 1.

You know, an unfulfilled request to God can leave you feeling alone. For instance, imagine for a moment, you’ve been married for a long time, but you’re unable to have children. In our culture, it’s almost assumed that a married couple will have kids. This assumption isn’t just cultural for us, it’s also the case for Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke Chapter 1, where I landed in this moment:

“[5] In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. [6] Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. [7] But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. [13] But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. [14] He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, [16] He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.[17] And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.'” – Luke 1:5-7,13-14,16-17 NIV

Zechariah and Elizabeth had the ability to trust God in the midst of an unfulfilled request to Him. Even in the pain and silence they endured. Years with no answers. Yes, years. And what did they do? They continued to serve God even as He remained silent to their plea, and they were counted as righteous.

“Okay God. I get it,” I thought. 

How do you deal with unresolved tension with God and the world around you? What happens when you have expectations and you’re let down? When I have to deal with adversity for a long stretch of time, it’s easy to want to lose faith and quickly turn to depression and a waning belief in others. Zechariah and Elizabeth show me that faithfulness is rewarded. To not give up during the silence. It simply means God is working and we just need to be faithfully patient. 

Friedrich Nietzsche described faithfulness as “…long obedience in the same direction.” Long obedience. The phrasing itself reminds me that the journey through will not be easy for us, but it will be worth it. Opening up your life to Jesus and others is worth it. Sharing hope and love is worth it. Believing the best is worth it.

If we stop at the moment it’s difficult, it can easily draw us into cynicism. But that’s the easy way out and really it’s rather lazy of us. It doesn’t commit to seeing it through. We meet opposition and just concede? No way! Because through trial, silence, and doubt, you can come out the other side and experience “…God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand,” as the writer of Philippians shares with us.

It’s that peace in God that keeps me hopeful, patient, and filled with a joy that is above understanding. God’s promises will stand. God will answer the prayers of the faithful. You will be okay. His church globally is and will continue to thrive. 

This is true for you regardless of…
– what He hasn’t answered yet.
– when the relationship collapses.
– how long the weight bears down on you.
– when you fall short and make mistakes.
– how He hasn’t said yes to your way.
– when the waters of pain feel like you’re drowning.
– when what you want isn’t what God does.

His promises still stand. God hasn’t forsaken you.
While He may not have answered your request yet, He’s listening.
He’s with you.
God is still working, even when we cannot see it.
Keep opening up your life.
Keep sharing Jesus with people.
Believe the best of people and stand with them in loyalty.

God grants us that peace as we are faithful to Him. That long obedience in the same direction.

Keep on loving others. We need you.

God’s building up you, His church, and this world better than ever before.
No amount of loneliness or wounds can change that.
Be patience with the process.