Though I’ve been away a lot, I’d kept up on Frontline’s recent “elevator” series via Internet. It was a sensational series and I very much appreciated what each pastor shared. The thing is, leaving the country, being away a month, returning, and leaving again, has given me an interesting perspective on Christian community in the DC area and has left me wrestling with one question: What do you do when you feel like your elevator is running out of air?
Bear with me on this one.
Being in the UK has been hard at times, as I’ve shared with many of you. But it’s also been a tremendous gift to temporarily escape the “bubble” in which I feel I live. As I’m sure many of you can relate – it’s hard to feel you live under a microscope. One becomes so intent on striving that it’s exhausting! And some times as brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re not as encouraging as we might profess, but instead pass judgment and apply pressure that never allows rest. We get so wrapped up in a desired image and work so hard to be successful in the world, our Christian walk, and ministry, that we lose sight of God. In my life, the consequences are that I grow suffocated and overwhelmed. My disconnectedness grows, in spite of LOTS of people around me. My ability to love, forgive, encourage, and serve begins to wane. If I just try harder, it gets worse!
A month ago I worried I might be unique in these feelings, but as I shared them with others, I learned many feel the same way. Some were actually jealous of my ability to get out of the DC rat race… to see things so much more clearly. That troubled me even more, so I had to write on it.
In this piece, I will not profess to have all the answers, because I don’t. I would merely like to share some observations, how I’m processing through them, and some action steps I’m considering for myself. I challenge you to think and pray long and hard on these observations, ask God if there’s any truth in them in your life, and see if you too need to make any changes.
Here’s my core observation…
We race from moment to moment. Our schedules are so packed we hardly have time to be together, in real quality moments. We know this and long for it, yet we’re consistently adding more activities and responsibilities to our plates. We try to be friends with too many people and attend every conceivable event. In the process, we end up with people all day, but in relationships that lack depth. We get so fried, we feel urges to escape. We waste a lot of time in our cars, getting to all these events and people too far away. We have to plan weeks and months in advance to fit it all in and our minds are so consumed as to where we need to go or what we need to do next, we’re continuously distracted. We’re exhausted and our relationships are neglected. We don’t have time to “play” with and enjoy one another. We’re good at stepping up for one another in times of crisis, but we dread those calls because some times they’re the only one’s we get! We’re so drained that we justify our own selfishness because we’re just trying to survive. God’s missing out here too. He gets neglected for the sake of all our responsibilities and even ministries that we’re convinced are so important. If we lightened our loads, we’d have more time to be spontaneous and have good clean fun (even in serving!) with both God and others, and reduce the amount of drama, stress, and pain we receive from relationships.
So What Shall I Do?
As I contemplate these desperate realities, I’m praying over a few key areas. I need to:
• Take Sabbath seriously
• Recondition my time with my Father
• Take responsibility for me
• Lighten my load
• Let God pick my friends
• Be serious about my relationships
Let me tell you a bit more what each of these means to me and where it may challenge you.
Take Sabbath Seriously
We need balance. We need lightness. We need fun, and play, and room to breathe. The world causes us to strive too much already. Being with God and his people should not be a further drain.
God wants my heart most of all (Isaiah 29:13) and he wants to refresh me (Jeremiah 31:25). He wants us to refresh each other (Proverbs 11:25). Yes, we’re to challenge and hold one another accountable, but are we doing that more than loving each other freely and living in joy and love? We MUST rest. God commands a Sabbath (Exodus 20:11) because he knew his people would be too consumed by the world and never stop if not told.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
Rest can mean many things. Rest in my life often means play, because it’s often my heart and mind that needs rest, more than my body. I must protect a day each week or at least part of a day, for this. One week my greatest need may be time alone with God. I need to break the urge to be social and take this time! My insecurities make me a slave to all the fun events around me… but what purports as fun can also cause a spiritual restlessness. Some times my Sabbath will include others (beyond me and God), but in protecting this day for refreshment, it should never include people or activities that in any way stress me out. I use the word protection here repeatedly, because that is what it takes to make it really happen. The world, even other believers and our own hearts, will try to steal this time for something else. The enemy will entice us and our exhaustion will only grow. Is your Sunday too jam-packed with ministry activities? That’s fine. It need not be Sunday. Commit Saturday or a part of it, that you will protect as stress free and restful to your heart, mind, soul, and body as needed. Enjoy God. Enjoy others. Relax.
Now scripture states that we are to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). If I were to delve in the details of that command, this piece would be even longer, so I won’t today. But since I’m fairly certain we’re all currently far from resting and protecting a day from stress, I’ll feel we’ve achieved much if we make some changes just starting there.
Recondition My Time with My Father
Potentially my most frightening realization has been that I felt God was stressing me out. My earthy parents are wonderful. They have always encouraged me, yet never beyond what is realistic. They accepted me; I was always good enough. Somehow though, I’ve still developed in me this need to continually strive. My relationship with God, my time with him, tends to center too much on me working through my stuff and how to become a better woman of God. It’s taxing! And sadly, it makes me not want to spend time with him.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:29-30
God doesn’t want me to feel that coming to him is so intense that I’m driven away! He wants to refresh me, love on me, just be with me and get to know me. He wants me to sit at his feet, get to know him, and enjoy him. Yes, there will be times that God and I need to deal with some hard things and have some tough conversations, but like any healthy relationship, we need to spend enough time together to achieve balance, heavy and light. I need to learn how to “play” with him. That’s hard for me because he’s obviously not tangible, but I need to try.
One immediate change I can make is in my preparation for worship. In London, I’ve found that I love going to church and sitting by myself. I know no one! There’s nothing to distract my thoughts. No friends I’m trying to catch up with or pass something off to, because I’ve been too busy to do so outside of church time. People and stimuli around me are not causing me to think of the 100 other things I’ve left undone this week. It’s just me and God. My worship time becomes a love story, as it should be. I need to figure out how to prepare better and/or focus more at MBC. Maybe I need to attend morning service more. Maybe I need to sit apart from my friends. Maybe I need to come early and spend time alone in prayer before we begin. I’m not sure, but I need to figure it out. I need resist the urge to bring a “to-do” list to church and remember why I’m there. I’m not sure yet which will work best for me, but change needs to occur!
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” Psalm 28:7
Take Responsibility for Me
If I begin to feel emotionally drained by others, that’s not their fault; it’s mine! I need to remember that I cannot change others, but only change the way I react to them. I have been so blessed with many people sharing some very difficult things with me in the past year. Thank you for trusting me with your hearts! I have grown so much and I don’t want this to change at all. Where I see I must improve is in trusting God with the lives of those I love. I get very stressed out about other people’s “stuff”. If you are reading this and you’ve shared difficult times and hard conversations with me in the last year, THANK YOU! You have been a blessing to me and it’s this intimacy, care, and involvement that have grown me and my faith immeasurably, not to mention my love for you! I am not for a second wishing any of this away. What I am acknowledging, is that I need to grow in discernment as to when to embrace you and when to create somewhat of a loving detachment in regard to your stuff. I need to grow in faith and more tangible practice that Christ will take care of you and I’m only his vessel as he may call. I need to pray, pray, pray about my role in your life or I will be of no godly use to you anyway, in fact, I may be an interference! I need to re-read my own blog about carrying one another’s burdens! (Lots of good scripture in there on this topic!)
Lighten My Load
Ah… this one is so obvious. SO WHY AREN’T WE DOING IT? Is it duty? Pride? Obsession? Compulsion? Insecurity? I need to learn to strategize my life and control my calendar. The UK has forced me to clear my calendar. What a cool thing that is! I can start over, really listening to where God may call me to serve or in who he’s call me to invest (or them in me). I normally have a lot of free time here. And though my interactions with those in DC may have to be non-conventional, they can be even more meaningful, because I have the bandwidth to make them so. Each of us needs to sit still and listen for God’s gentle small voice. He won’t yell. He may actually allow us to run around like chickens without a head until we get it. If you haven’t heard a clear answer, ever thought maybe you ought to do nothing? Look at your life. Look at your calendar. How much can you really do and maintain a healthy relationship with God and others? What is causing the most growth and joy? Cut the rest; don’t be enticed or guilted into more.
This morning I listened to Todd’s sermon from last week, the first in the series on the parable of the talents. He encourages us to all go and use our talents. But consider this… if you are already running mad and feeling burned-out with activity, ever think this message MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FOR YOU?! If you are not serving at all, yes, you need to get in the game. You may have to give something else up to do it (to fit it in), but oh, it will be worth it! However, if you’re already serving, I can assure you, Todd is not recommending you take on ten more things! Do you know that 80% of the work is accomplished by 20% of the people? I would suspect that the same people who need this blog the most are the same who felt provoked to do even more by Todd’s sermon. Please, please, there are plenty of Frontliners doing nothing but socializing. If this isn’t you though, Todd is not necessarily asking you to take on more. Be discerning! This is a prime example of how in the past Frontline has stressed me out. It’s never been the pastors’ fault… its how my personality receives this information (again, taking responsibility for me). Remember, each sermon should be taken to God for God to show us what we should, or should not, apply to our own lives. Certain sermons may apply to us very little and others much more.
Let God Pick My Friends
I feel like we all long for family, but we never achieve it because we can’t commit to one another. I know A LOT of great people yet, maybe I’m not meant to be friends with all of them. Maybe it is more important to pick a select few and ensure they’re given priority in my life. Perhaps these people should be people that live within a certain geographic radius, not all over the moon, to be a good steward of the time God has given me (instead of spending so much in the car). Or maybe not. Possibly we should be of a similar age and spiritual maturity or share mutual interests so we might really live life together, including our errands, our activities, even our workouts. Or not? I must allow God to pick my friends. I should not focus on who I view as the “coolest” or who makes me feel the best. Why are we often looking for what someone can give us or do for us? At the same time, I shouldn’t be a martyr, picking only people I must continually pour into and who drain me. God gets to choose the balance and I need only be open to his lead.
Once God has selected them (which will often be revealed by scheduling that works out, mutual affection, and the like), I need to truly put these few in a position of protection in my life. Friendship should not be about convenience. If we are family, let’s act like it. A healthy family spends frequent quality time together and makes themselves available to each another. Jesus chose a group of twelve, and then even among them, he had a core group of three. This seems to be a good model. On MySpace, folks joke about our “Top Friends”. Though the Internet is not the place to broadcast, conceptually, its wise and something I’ve done for years! I mean, if I don’t prioritize all the people in my life, how will I know how to manage my time when things get crazy? Mary, Martine and Anne might as well be sisters to me in the truest sense. Similar to Kate, my sister by blood, I’d drop anything for them. I’d be on the next plane if something dreadful happened, without a blink of an eye. We share this with each other too. These amazing three ladies know I feel this way about them and prioritize them in such a way. And they feel the same of me. They are my rock. I’d be lost without them and them me. It is like the covenant between David and Jonathan. I take them into consideration when I think about things in my life. I may not be able to make decisions around them, but I ensure they play a part and I speak with them first.
Some of you think that such commitment or intensity in friendship is silly. I think its silly so many of us in DC are single in our thirties and am really starting to doubt it as God’s plan (I’ll get to that in a minute). But, if God has truly called us to this state right now, than he must intend us to build true family ties in another way. We have an innate need for family. Most of our families are far from DC. That wasn’t normally the case in scripture and when it was, people were taken in by others. This should be our friendships in DC. I see too many shallow and temporal friendships. We need to consider each other more. WARNING! Guy/girl friendships: Not going to get into detail here, but watch out for inappropriate “surrogacy”. We could get so comfortable in these surrogate dating relationships that we fail to date! Get serious about friendships. Make solid same-sex friends. Make some good opposite sex friends within appropriate boundaries.
Ok - Quick note on dating and singleness… I’m noticing while over here, that the DC Christian scene is sadly unique in our inability to couple. Have we so many choices that we’re afraid to jump in, fearing someone better is around the corner? Are we too obsessed with too many things to make the time to get to know one another? Folks… people all over the world are jumping in, making commitments, and a lot are even keeping them (imagine that!). Get in the game!
Be Serious About My Relationships
Following on from the section before is a deep acknowledgement that true intimacy is hard. But it’s so good, and biblical, so the work is worth it. Don’t give up too easily.
A friend and I had a hard conversation a few weeks ago. We expressed frustration that something about our relationship has always seemed so complicated, when compared to other friendships. But then as I’ve pondered this over the last few weeks, it’s because of the level of intimacy we share, emotional and spiritual. We may not have a lot of other relationships with that intensity.
You see, we are made for intimacy, deep, profound intimacy. We need to realize, that with it comes the reality of who we are, including our sin. We need to be willing to live in grace and work through difficult things with one another, to have that intimacy we treasure. We need to learn how to maneuver the intensity, which may mean balancing it and controlling its levels.
I started this peace alluding that I was enjoying some time out of the elevator, but it didn’t take me long to begin to experience a deep loneliness in the UK. My first two weeks in London were frankly refreshing. But as my time grew on, it was not that I didn’t have people around me, but that we lacked a spiritual connection, an intimacy, a real relationship. As the disconnection progressed, it grew into a deep spiritual loneliness, a growing lack of connection to Christ, because of a lack of connection with his people. I was so blessed and refreshed by a small act of kindness late one week, when Friday Night Bible Study “Skyped” me in. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t hear over half the time! But I knew I was in God’s presence and there with his people. I was refreshed on another level.
I think Will’s sermon (#3) was the most significant to me, because I agree so whole heartedly that we need each other. I needed to get away, but I needed to not stay away too long, lest my heart grow hard. It would become too easy to stumble into sin. I need people in my life with whom I can be vulnerable, who will hold me accountable, yet I need balance where folks aren’t all over me, and allow me to be me, at my pace. For example - In each of us, there are great things and there are quirks and even sin. I have a big, loving, generous heart. But with it, comes a lot of emotion, and some times quick words and overreactions. You don’t get one with a promise you won’t get the other. I’m all or nothing, guys. But trust me that I know this about me and will seek God in handling of all my reactions. Don’t be so darn critical! Let’s not forgot love.
On these thoughts on family, friendship, community, loving one another, the scripture is endless! And you know most of the good ones, so these are my thoughts… and if you need scriptural proof, I dare you to go research it! You’ll be overwhelmed.
Other people find the balance, between activity and relationship, play and intensity. Lots of people around the world are having wonderful, deep authentic friendships w/o feeling drained, exhausted and overstretched. Is balance possible in DC? I have to think so. I have to think God has a way. I pray we ask him more readily how to change things, how to change us, so that we can really be kingdom thinkers, not just rats on a wheel. Will you pray this with me today?
Father God, you made us first and foremost to love you. Then you told us to love and serve one another. I confess, that somewhere along the way, I’ve gotten caught up in the world, the hectic pace of DC, the inability to say no, the failure to listen to your voice and discern in which activities and relationships to partake, and from which I should abstain. Father, help all of us to slow down. Help us to think of your way, how Jesus lived. He was a busy and intentional man. Yet he made time for you first. He never feared being alone; he made time for you and he got time away with the people you called into his life. He had deep authentic relationships. He was committed to these men. Help us to learn how to do this. Help us to focus, make wise decisions, and cut back as needed. Give us rest, Lord; real rest… rest that refreshes the soul at its deepest levels. Point out to us anything in us, our scheduling, our commitments, our social life, that does not glorify you or keeps us from being truly successful in the right activities and relationships. Quiet us enough to hear you. Give us strength to listen and make changes as needed. Be our guide. AMEN!