I was let go from my role at our church a year ago today. September 4th, 2012.
In part, I remember it because it was the evening of my fantasy football draft. I left my team co-owner hanging, wondering where I was. He did all right, though. Drafted a team that ended up winning the league championship for us last year. Incidentally, our league draft falls on the same night this year. Let the title defense begin. And the bad memories, I suppose.
That’s the other reason I remember the date, and probably won’t ever forget it. It was the worst night of my life. That sort of thing tends to stick.
Most of you don’t know exactly why I was let go. It doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that the people who lead the church I served were made aware of some very serious mistakes I had made, and as a result they had to end my tenure at the church I was deeply privileged to serve for 6 ½ years. I deserved it. They did what was right. Period.
Of everything that has happened in the last year, that’s the part that is easiest for me to understand. Sin and consequences. Action and reaction. My kids can wrap their young heads around that. What I don’t understand—what I cannot comprehend—is what has happened since.
This year… …Boy, I’m frustrated even as I begin this paragraph because I know that I’m not going to be able to convey what this year has been. Even looking pensively out the window of this hipster hangout coffee shop isn’t helping my wordsmithing. Isn’t it supposed to?
This year has been by far the most difficult of my life. I’m sure I speak for my wife, too. And this year has been by far the sweetest of my life. (I think I speak for Leslie too… Chime in anytime, m’love.) This year has been the most arduous of our 12-year marriage. But the resolve of our commitment to each other has never been stronger or deeper. I’ve learned more about myself this year, and seen more change in myself than in any year of my life. I’ve learned more about the church this year than in any year of my life—including the 6+ years during which I spent the majority of my waking moments in a church building. Or at a hipster hangout (wannabe) coffee shop near the church building.
This is the year of my life when I was most tempted to give God the finger and see if Kierkegaard and Thoreau wanted to meet me at the aforementioned hipster hangout (wannabe) coffee shop. And it’s the year of my life when I have grown most confident in the eternal existence and goodness of Jesus, and the indomitable truth of his word.
These are the things I can’t wrap my head around. How can these all be true? In the same year. I thought it was physically impossible for darkness and light to co-habitate the same space at the same time.
A few weekends ago I was sitting, reading and thinking by a lake. (Thoreau-like.) I hadn’t read the biblical book of Habakkuk in quite some time, and decided to read through it in one sitting. You should be impressed. It’s three whole pages long. Reading it reminded me that I’m definitely not alone in my confusion about how God can grab a few sweet potatoes, some really bitter herbs, throw them together, call it life stew, and make it taste good.
Habakkuk: I feel like something’s wrong, here, God. You’re good, and you’re in charge, but it seems like there’s an awful lot of bad people winning.
God: Yeah, about that… I’m actually planning on doubling down. The worst people are going to win big for a while.
Habakkuk: Oh, good, ‘cause I was starting to… Wait… what?…
[ominous music, commercial break]
God: Yeah, the worst thing you can imagine in your life is going to happen. I’m going to see to it that it happens. It’s going to be awful. You’re going to hate it. You’ll be filled with shame instead of glory. You’re going to wish you were dead. It’s going to be worse than you think. Are you writing this down? You probably should be…
Habakkuk: Hm. You sure you know what you’re doing? Do you need any advice? Probably not. But… Do you? Maybe I can help.
God: I’m good. I’ve been around longer than you. Here’s the thing, though (and this is pretty important): This is all going to turn out very, very sweet. It will be for your good. It will be for my glory. It will be for your joy. It will be for my fame.
Habakkuk: Okay. I guess I’ll just wait here, then? …And even as everything falls apart around me, I will rejoice in you. I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk didn’t say that he would be joyful after the smoke cleared and the bodies were buried and flowers grew again. He said he would choose to trust God during the calamity, and take joy in God’s plan—even though he didn’t understand it—simply because it was God’s plan and God’s plans are always good.
I wonder how long it took Habakkuk to put together the pieces and make sense of God’s plan after the carnage took place. Maybe he understood it right away. Maybe he never did. Maybe he never grasped the significance of what God had him write. But I know that with the benefit of only a year’s worth of reflection (mostly in hipster hang… nevermind…), I can already see the beauty in the brokenness of my and Leslie’s life. I see more of it every day.
And yet, here’s the conversation I’ve had with myself in my head a thousand times this year:
Me: If you could go back and change the past, would you?
Me: Oh, of COURSE. Absolutely. 100%. I’d give anything to go back and do things differently.
Me: So, you don’t think God’s plan and design for your life is the best one? You’d change it if you could?
Me: Oh… Well… I mean… You know what I mean… right?
Me: You’re asking me if I know what I’m thinking? … Yeah, I know what you mean. I know you regret your decisions and are repentant. I know that if you were in the same situation again, you’d do the right thing. But what I’m asking is: Do you believe that what has happened, happened because God planned for it to happen—that God planned it for his ultimate glory, for your ultimate good, and for the ultimate good of his people?
Me: Man… That’s a tough pill to swallow. I am finally becoming the man I want to be. And I doubt it would be happening if I hadn’t dropped an H-bomb on my life. But… I doubt I can help wishing that I could undrop the bomb. You know what I’m saying?
Me: Yeah. Welcome to Habakkuk’s world.
I did a lot of looking backward this year. Looking back on what’s been lost. Looking back on what might have been. Looking back on the wreckage. I’m glad I did. Not to have done so would have been callous. And I don’t want to forget the lessons of our scars. The shrapnel (or thorn) in my side will be significant for the rest of my life.
But this year is for something else. This year is for looking forward. Looking forward to what might be. Looking forward to what could be built. There is a family to raise up and a bride to love. There are fields to plant. There are castles to build. There are dragons to kill. There are dreams to dream.
Maybe next September 4th I’ll be preparing for a campaign toward a fantasy football three-peat. Probably not. But I’m glad I’m where I am this September 4th, and not where I was last. And I can’t wait to see what God has in store for the next year. Whatever it is, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God, my savior.