My recent slump has proven to be a blessing in disguise. Isn't that just how God works?
I had to figure out why I was so enveloped with sadness and that forced me to wrestle with some big questions. As I pondered what was going on in my heart, some important pieces of the puzzle came together for me. I realized that I was not only having a difficult time dealing with the adjustment of living with cancer, but more so I was struggling with not being able to do much of what I had filled my days with prior to my diagnosis and treatment. I found myself facing a sense of loss, a real void in my life, having to contend with this exorbitant amount of unfilled hours in each day... and it was pulling me into a deep sense of sadness.
You see, I'm used to putting far more on my plate than could ever be accomplished in just one day. In the midst of which, I would often add to my stress by comparing myself to my peers in ministry. I've spent countless hours berating myself for not putting in as much time as other Youth Workers say they do or for not having as many big activities and events planned as some of them. Somehow, no matter how hard I would push myself, I never seemed to live up to my own standards. Needless to say, I'm used to waking up and going to sleep with my mind racing through all the things I feel I need to accomplish in the next 24 hours. Yet, now that I've been diagnosed with cancer, I've had to pass off much of my weekly responsibilities to my (totally awesome) volunteer team. I find myself waking up most days wondering, "what am I going to do with all the hours in today now?" That is frustrating, to say the least, for someone like me who is so driven!
As I struggled with this new-found and undesired void in my days, I became sadder and sadder as I missed the activity and busy-ness of ministry life. I came to realize that my excess of unfilled hours had gotten me to the point where I had slipped into feeling useless and purposeless. Not good!
Well, like I said before, a couple of really caring friends got my motorcycle up and running for me a little over a week ago. We went out riding and, though I originally felt like I was being unwise and wasting time, it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. First off, it was the most normal I've felt in months. While I was on my bike, I wasn't Heather, the cancer patient. I wasn't Heather, the Youth Director. I was just Heather, God's child enjoying his creation. I hadn't felt like myself like that in so long. What a gift! Second, it was a great time for me to ponder on some of my struggles and questions, as well as Scripture and God's promises.
I began to exercise my brain over the question of my usefulness and purpose in life. I started to process through some fundamental questions... ones that I already had answers to, but I felt like I had to revisit and dig deeper on. So, I got to thinking about the question, "what really is my purpose?" For so long, my knee-jerk answer to that was Youth Ministry... but now, I can't do Youth Ministry the way I was doing it before (note, I'm not saying that I can't do it at all... it's just different and not so life-absorbing). As I tried to answer this fundamental question of purpose, I began to realize that over the years, I had somehow unknowingly blended my calling and my purpose together. I have a calling to "do" Youth Ministry, but it came to me on that beautiful motorcycle ride that if, for some reason, I couldn't ever do Youth Ministry again, I would not suddenly be without purpose!
So then, what is my purpose? The simple answer, the one that immediately came to mind, is this: "Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever" (from the Westminster Catechism)... but what does that really mean? How do I live out that purpose? Do I really believe that? I mean, I might say I do, but whether or not I live it out in my daily actions proves whether or not I truly believe it or if it's just lip service. And finally, do I just believe it because it's been taught to me for years now... or is it really a truth that stands on Scripture? Ah.. the deep ponderings of life!
Being on the bike, I couldn't manage to come up with a concise verse off the top of my head that spelled out the answers to those questions and I couldn't go search for it either. So, I ended up pondering over some of the great people of the Bible.... guys like Abraham, David, and Noah. I got to wondering, "what was it about them that pleased the Lord?" Abraham was credited with righteousness; David was called a man after God's own heart; and Noah was one of the only people God considered worth saving through the great flood. So, what was it about them that pleased God?
Well, Romans says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3). Then there was David... he was all over the place with his faith! In several of his psalms, he railed against God when he was upset, but then submitted to him again when he realized he was wrong; he committed adultery, but was still called a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22)! Noah believed God when he was given ridiculous instructions to obey (Gen. 7:1-5). (I can just imagine him saying, "You want me to build a what... an ark? OK, Lord, whatever you say!"). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that God wasn't pleased with any of these guys because of what they did for him... he was pleased with Abraham's righteousness, David's desire, and Noah's belief. It was all about their hearts... what they did for God - their actions - simply served to prove what was already in their hearts (check out James 2:18).
It was all starting to come together for me, but I still had one important question to hash out: When it comes down to the heart, the question remained, how does one enjoy the Lord? I've been thinking that God just simply enjoys it when I find joy in his creation and appreciate him... when I simply delight in who God is and find joy in my relationship with him. God didn't put me on this earth because he needs something from me. It's not like his plans will unravel if I can't continue to do things for him as I have been. Think about it... when I'm on the bike, God doesn't love me any less because I'm not doing ministry or something else for him. He loves me just as I am because he created me and he created this earth for me to enjoy, so when I'm out on the bike enjoying God's creation... just being his child (not a cancer patient trying to encourage those around me or a Youth Director trying to minister to teens)... when I'm just being his child, I think God loves it!
The epiphany I had was simply that God first wants me to BE with him before he wants me to DO things for him. Not that he wants me to check out of life to go on some mental ascent (again, my actions are important, as they are proof of my heart), but the "being" must come before the "doing". I know myself... when I put it the other way around, it all goes cockeyed! I start doing all sorts of things in my own strength and I start to sacrifice my relationship with God for a job serving him. That certainly isn't what any good father would want for his children! So I'm learning that this is a different season for me. God is forcing me to go from "doing" to just "being".
It's a real paradigm shift for me, but it's driving me deeper in my understanding of God and my faith in him... and for that I'm thankful.