I’m writing a book. There, I said it.
To tell you the truth, I debated on whether or not to share this publicly. It can sound so presumptuous, as if writing a book is what one does after they’ve risen far above everyone else with their cute little assumptions and misunderstandings.
“Excuse me, people. Author coming through.”
But that’s not me and that’s not why I’m writing this book.
A couple years ago I decided I wanted to do something special for our kids.
So on a whim I jumped into their room and announced we were going to get some fish. The girls screamed with excitement. We hopped in the car and headed to the pet store. Together we picked out some fish to adopt and a whole setup for them. We even splurged on a Sponge Bob motif equipped with miniature versions of Squidward’s house and the Krusty Krab for our fish to lounge in after a long day.
We got it all home and spent most of the evening getting the whole thing setup. Finally the moment came for the fish to enter their new habitat. The girls and I counted down from ten, “10, 9, 8, 7…” and then we plopped them in. The girls jumped up and down with anticipation as they watched the fish explore their new home. I gotta admit I was feeling pretty great as a dad in that moment.
To our horror, however, over the next twenty-four hours we watched as one-by-one the fish began to float a little funny. “What are they doing, dad?” “Uh, they’re back floating honey.” (Which technically was not a lie.)
Within two days all of them were dead. Every single one.
It was just about six years ago that Megan and I loaded everything we owned into our 2001 Honda Accord and a small trailer in a parking garage in Los Angeles.
We had spent the previous few years preparing and now it was time to make the long trek back to Lincoln, Nebraska. Our goal? To be a part of unleashing a movement of God’s grace in the city of Lincoln. We had no idea all that would entail (and we still don’t) but we did know one thing: it would start with the planting of a church.
“Oh my god! Did that just go in?! I think that went in!”
I was fifteen years old and I had just hit the golf shot of a lifetime.
Set deep in the trees with over a hundred yards to go and just a six foot window to put the ball through, I was in what us hackers affectionately call a “swing and pray” situation, as in swing hard and pray the ball misses all of the trees directly in front of you. Normally I’d simply utilize my trusty foot wedge and conveniently relocate the ball somewhere less deadly, but just as I located my ball a family walking down an adjacent road spotted me in the forestry and stopped to watch the show.
I spent the next few minutes nervously trying to figure out my shot while pretending not to hear the muffled voices of my own personal shame gallery standing directly behind me.
Flustered, I prayed a short and desperate prayer, nervously stepped up to the ball and swung.
I’ve always considered myself to be a person who handles stress pretty well. I like to be busy. I enjoy taking risks. I tend to have my hands in numerous endeavors at any given time. I never thought anxiety was my problem.
Then a little less than a year ago I hit a wall.
The previous several years of starting and growing the church I now pastor had caught up with me. I could never seem to get enough sleep. Small tasks became very difficult. Things I had normally done with little thought or stress were suddenly accompanied with an almost crippling anxiety.
It all came to a head one day as I was driving between meetings when all of a sudden it felt as though my heart was malfunctioning. I pulled the car over to the side of the road convinced I was having a heart attack. I remember thinking this might be the way I go out and I began praying for my family. That was my first panic attack. It was that moment that I realized I could no longer ignore the stress and anxiety that was slowly taking over my life.
Something had to change.
Note: The video below includes profanity. If you’re in a public place, heads up.
For the last several weeks we’ve been journeying through Jesus’ beatitudes with our church. This morning I’ve been reflecting on the last couple months and as I do I find myself once again captivated by Jesus and overwhelmed by the depth and richness of his words.
In the beatitudes Jesus puts flesh and color on the resounding theme of his life: the presence and availability of the kingdom of God. Those present to hear his words no doubt found them every bit as shocking as we do.
In a culture marked by religious oppression and exclusivity, one in which things like power and financial blessing were assumed to be evidence of God’s favor, Jesus makes a shocking announcement: The kingdom of God is available to those religion has failed and the world has forgotten.
Something is wrong.
You can feel it in the air. Many of us can sense it in ourselves. Something has shifted and it’s not for the better.
Never before has a generation existed that is more connected and isolated at the same time. We have hundreds of Facebook friends yet we do not know our neighbors. We have scores of LinkedIn contacts and Twitter followers but very few people we can call in the middle of the night when we need a friend.
One of my heroes, Brennan Manning, used to tell a story about a friend of his named Mary. Mary worked out of her home in New Orleans and in her living room hung a large banner that read, “Today I will not should on myself.” Whenever one of Mary’s friends said something to her like “Mary, you should get back into teaching” or “You should go on vacation,” Mary would respond “Don’t you should on me. Don’t you dare should on me.”
Should is a powerful word.
At any moment on any given day there is an endless list of things I should be doing. I should eat right. I should exercise. I should spend time in prayer. I should read my bible. I should be more productive. I should be more generous. I should be more disciplined. I should read that book. I should pursue that thing I’ve always talked about. I should get together with so and so. I should be a better husband, dad, friend, neighbor, employee, _______.
I hate regret. It’s an awful feeling. As I look back on this past year, if I’m really honest, I have some regrets. There are some things I did well, but there are also some things I wish I could go back and do differently. There are areas of my life I wish I’d given more attention, and others I wish I had focused a lot less on. My disdain for regret is one of the reasons I have a love-hate relationship with the end of the year. The end of the year is a time to look back as we prepare to move forward. This is not always a painless exercise. It takes courage to look in the review mirror and honestly assess what we see, but I believe it’s absolutely necessary if we are to live next year better than the last. And that of course is the beauty of a new year. It is a chance to start over. The beginning of a new year bring with it the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to turn the page and to begin a new chapter.
So for those who like me want to live this next year better than the last, this post is for you. And to make this personal and prove I’m not just blowing smoke, I’ve also included some brief reflections in italics on how I am applying these to my own life in the coming year.
Here are 6 questions to help you avoid regret and live with greater clarity in 2016:
This morning a photo popped up in my newsfeed of one of our early gatherings with the Mosaic launch team. Back then we were just thirty-five or so people meeting in a basement dreaming about starting a church together. My wife Megan and I smiled as we reminisced about those early days. We were young and crazy, full of excitement and anticipation for what God was going to do. Looking back it is truly humbling to think about all we have indeed seen God do over the past five years. But if I’m really honest, it also hurts. As I looked at that picture I saw faces of people I love, people we served with and bled with, many of whom are no longer a part of our church.
One of the things I’ve found hardest about being a pastor is seeing people leave. Some leave because life takes them elsewhere – graduation, a new job, an opportunity that can’t be passed up, etc. There are others, however, who leave simply because they choose to go somewhere else. It’s always hard when people leave, but it’s this latter category that can be especially hard. I’ve sat with enough pastors to know I am not alone in struggling at times with the shuffling of the saints. On the other hand, I’ve also sat with enough parishioners to know that it’s not always understood why this is. Why do some pastors have such a hard time when people choose to leave the church they pastor? Why is it such a big deal? Why do some seem to take it so personally?
So I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the reasons why it can be so hard on us pastors when people leave: