I Didn't Have Enough Love to Stay.
Love is uncomfortable. Showing the type of sacrificial love that Jesus' expects of us is a challenge because it taxes our very ability to give away something that we so desperately desire to have for ourselves. We are to love first without the expectation of love in return, but we can freely admit that we need to be loved as well.
There are seasons in life that place us in an uncomfortable tension between needing love and giving love. I will attempt to talk through a painful time in my life where I made a choice simply because I did not have enough love to give.
In Brett McCracken's book Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community, the author is talking about demonstrating Biblical levels of love. The main illustration is unsurprisingly the commitment to marriage. But Brett drops the following lines, and in what seems like an afterthought, I grasped one of the missing pieces of a big moment in my life.
Here is what he said,
I was working in a church that I loved with people that I loved. It was a vibrant and challenging community that was actively bringing hope to hopeless people. But somehow my wife and I lost track of each other. We drifted apart...
As my marriage crumbled I swiftly approached my personal breaking point. Every nerve was perpetually raw. I vividly remember sitting on the floor of a bathroom stall in the school we were renting weeping uncontrollably. I suddenly found myself feeling just like the people we as a church had vowed to reach - hopeless.
With a nervous breakdown inevitably approaching I did the most unhealthy thing a pastor could do - I threw myself deeper into the work. Ignoring my real feelings, I funneled the anxious energy of uncertainty into "ministry," if you could even call it that. My senior pastor even beamed at how productively awesome I was doing. I had everyone fooled, I guess.
Now, I'll fast forward a bit and tell you that my wife and I made it out ok. We are happy now and we have finally learned how to love each other. Hard learned lessons are the best lessons.
In order to get to the point where my wife and I could recover, I had to make a difficult choice.
I had to leave the best job I ever had.
I didn't have enough love for both.
To be good at your job you have to love it to some level. To do the work of the ministry as Jesus did we have to have supernatural levels of love.
Love is a muscle that needs to be developed. The exercise of love enables us to love more. What I realized soon during the tumultuous season addressed above is that I did not have the capacity to love both the people of the church and my wife.
I had faked it pretty well. When I was channeling the fear of losing my wife into "good ministry" I had everyone faked out, but I knew deep down inside that what I was doing was unsustainable. If I had continued I would have lost my wife, the church, and probably my self.
I began to pray that God would let me leave my position in the church I was serving. It was a cry of surrender that I couldn't do it anymore. It was an admission that I didn't have the ability to love (or to receive love).
After 4 months of praying and counseling, I resigned. This was the second saddest day that I have lived. Not a day goes by that I do not think of the church and the people I worked with. I know that sounds cliché, but it is true. My thoughts are mixed with regret and joy, what-ifs and thankfulness. I am profoundly happy that my family has made it through, but I reflect with sadness on what might have been.
It is hard to admit that I am limited in any capacity. It is the stubbornness that serves me well to the top and bottom of life. But the uncomfortable truth is simply this: At the time, I did not have enough love to be a minister and husband.
Now some people reading this will inevitably say that I turned my back on Jesus because I chose my wife over the ministry work. I put my hand to the plow and then looked back making me unfit for the kingdom of God. Maybe so. I won't truly know until I get to the pearly gates and look Jesus in the eye. But I can confidently say that the whole experience has greatly increased my ability to love others in the right way.
What is the right way to love others? By committing to them on a personal level. By learning how to love someone who caused me great pain with her actions, I can love others more deeply.
Sometimes in the work of the church we commit more to mission than to people. We commit to a leaders vision instead of to each other. How shallow our Christian experience becomes when we commit to something instead of someone. Loving a things like visions, commands and missions are just materialism wrapped up in leadership speak. We think that these things will lead to joy, but they never do. The person of Jesus and the fellowship of the Church (that is, God's people, not an organization) is what brings joy.
I've also learned that I have to budget my commitments. I can't commit to loving too much beyond my capacity. If I do then I will inevitably neglect another commitment that I have. We must be stretched in our commitments to love others, but be wise enough not to take on so much that we succumb to overwhelming demands that our commitments of love will place on us.
Leaving the job I loved the most actually allowed me to learn to love more honestly, deeply, and sincerely. It has increased my capacity to love and serves as a reminder that loving people is always more important than loving an organization - no matter how good of an organization it is.