You know what I’m talking about. Those seasons. The ones you can hardly talk about. Not because it is a bad season. Not even because you hate the season. I mean, maybe. It could definitely be that. But that would be an oversimplification. Part of it is just putting words to the tune of it, but I have to try.
About two years ago, I left my home church. Before you ask, nothing “happened.” Everything was fine. With the church, I mean. I loved my people, my family, and I still do. I find myself missing and thinking about them more and more lately. We had been through a lot. We all made mistakes, but we always loved each other, saw each other through, and sharpened each other like iron. Where anyone failed, the rest forgave. Where anyone was weak, the rest gave their strength.
There had been times before when I’d thought about leaving over people or problems, but God consistently convicted me that loving one another didn’t involve running from one another. So I stayed, and God did work. Lots of it. In me and in others. It seemed like the last thing I should do was leave. Why would I ever do it?
But I did.
I had gone to a worship leaders’ conference in Atlanta, and on my way out of the parking lot, I very clearly heard, whether in thought or feeling, “It’s okay. You can go now.” Like the time had come. Not a time I wanted to come. A time I was afraid would come. A time when moving forward involved moving away from what I’d known. Leaving my comfort zone.
The scary part was that it wasn’t that I felt that I “had to” go. I was under no obligation or duress from God or man. There was no pressure to leave, nor was there desire. There was only certainty. I wasn’t compelled, yet I couldn’t help myself. It was time, and I couldn’t deny it, even if I didn’t really know why.
A few months went by, and my last day came and went with heartbreaking emotion. I started spending the time I’d normally spend with my church family going to a coffee shop in Owensboro, KY, to write, study, and pray. I couldn’t stand to have my mind occupied with where I wasn’t, sitting in my own home. I would have rather been an hour away. I couldn’t be idle.
Did I still mourn the move away from my own church? Yes. I still do.
So why would I leave? Better yet, why would God call me to leave?
Because the problem wasn’t the church. It was me.
I didn’t even realize it, but I had changed. Something had been revealed in me. For the longest time, I looked for somewhere to belong. I found it in my home church. But somewhere along the way, “somewhere to belong” became something else. The place didn’t change, and neither did the people, but I slipped into this grey area between belonging and hiding. It was like sitting in the opening of a cave—in the darkness, yet the light is still visible.
I’m not describing this church as a cave. I’m describing myself. I had gotten to the precipice of something in my life (a breakthrough if you really want to use Christian culture buzzwords). I knew I belonged, but I didn’t yet know how to live in that. I didn’t know that belonging isn’t something you lose when you leave. You can choose to stop belonging, and others can choose it for you, but it doesn’t have to happen. Sudden rejection isn’t a certainty.
I spent a long time there with my home church. I needed that. I needed to belong. I needed to heal, but I forgot that healing is useless if you don’t start to live again. That’s the point of new life. It begins now, and it lasts forever. Because Jesus was alive in the people who loved me, I came to believe that Jesus’ love was true, and that was when he came alive in me. That was when I really learned to love, too.
But I didn’t lose all my fears just because he came alive in me. That’s not how it works. “Perfect love casts out fear,” right (see I John 4:18)? It sounds to me like a process rather than a moment (even though it can definitely happen that way). In fact, moments of fear in the Bible are often followed by a call to be brave (see Joshua 1:9), which means actively and continually fighting fear beyond a single moment.
What I hadn’t realized is that I let my fears turn my belonging place into a prison. A beautiful prison full of love and safety. Jesus, however, made me for freedom and bravery. It should make me brave that God, who loves me, is with me wherever I go.
All this time, even since I found these people, I was trying to find a reason to stop hiding. When God brought me to them, it was enough to have one small community, a family. I didn’t need anything more. I was content… but my contentment in one thing made me forget something important.
The world is much bigger than me, and most people do not have the luxury of contentment.
Most people in the world struggle for food and clean water.
Most people in the world live on less per day than I earn in five minutes.
Most people have dysfunctional relationships.
Most people don’t know where they belong if anywhere, just like me.
Most people do not know Jesus, whose power is the very key to contentment when things are good and when things are bad, whose power can change their hearts and their circumstances, who is faithful and full of love and purpose even when he doesn’t change our circumstances.
When I look back on leaving my people, I wonder if anyone felt like I just ghosted them, like I left because I didn’t want to be around them anymore, or for some other reason, or for no reason at all. What I failed to realize is that I’ve been ghosting the world by living in my own personal contentment when there are those who need someone to be discontented for their cause. I learned how to accept and live through the circumstances I can’t change and to appreciate the circumstances I wouldn’t change. Others do not have my luxury.
The problem is that it takes bravery to love someone other than yourself simply for the fact that it costs you… yourself.
Forget the time.
Forget the effort.
Forget the energy.
Forget the resources.
Forget the money.
Forget the emotions.
Forget the comfort.
Forget the life, even.
You are giving them yourself. It costs you… you.
If you are a Christ-follower, does this shock you? Because the authors of the books of the Bible repeatedly remind us (see Eph. 5:2 for one example) that Jesus didn’t just give us his stuff. He gave us himself.
I guess that’s the point. I haven’t been giving myself away. That’s what bravery does. That’s what love does. That is what God wanted to change in me.
For a time, I’ve disappeared. I’m not just talking about disappearing into my church home. I have slowly backed away from social media, from blogging, from social obligations, from doing too many events, from being involved in too many things. Some of it has been time management. Some of it has not.
I’ve been struggling to understand what was wrong, if anything. Maybe my personality has been changing… Just kidding. I’m still loud and strange… But I think I finally get it.
I disappeared into good things for a lot of good reasons, but one thing has underscored the whole movement. If I’m going to be brave, I’d better be brave for something. Yet so much of what I’ve been doing has felt like a waste, like I’m in the rat race for publicity and a career path, but it’s not even that. I’ve known it’s not about that. For all the moments I’ve been distracted by money or personal popularity, or even just to feel like I’m moving forward in some meaningful way, I have never been under the delusion that life is about that. Those things are not what life is but things that life has.
But my life isn’t meaningful because of what I have. My life is meaningful because of what I give.
My life is meaningful because Christ is in me, and if I give myself away, those to whom I give myself get him. They get his life forever, and they get his love forever. That is worth as much bravery as I have.
I’ve been realizing that for any number of brave things I’ve done in the light, I’ve hidden much of my life in the darkness of fear. I see how dangerous life is and how incapable of surviving life I am. I’ve failed to remember that because of Jesus my life is not bound to that which I fear. Because of Jesus, my life is bound to that which I love, and because of love I will be brave in a world that is dangerous.
I am alive because of love. If I am brave, it is only because of love.
So, here’s to all of you who are ready to come out of hiding.
Here’s to all of you who have something to be brave for.
Here’s to all of you who don’t know what love is yet.
It won’t be long.
A prayer for those of you who get what I’m saying: “Jesus, help me to remember how much you love me so that I can be brave enough to live and to love others in the presence of my fears.”