This Thursday many faithful Christians will be solemnly pondering their hearts and seeking a deeper connection with God through various Penitential ways. Some will give up meat, chocolate, masturbation, sex, alcohol, sugar, or any other slightly fun or addictive habit they have brought in to Lent. All of us seeking a new start. All of us hoping to be drawn nearer unto our Beloved Creator.
The day following Ash Wednesday is especially somber. Many of us have a grand hope, a dream to be better when Easter morning arrives than we are when Lent begins. It is our “Alt+Ctr+Del” that resets us and renews our life. It is that spiritual “spring break” in which we let our religious freak flag fly and conjure up a way forward that celebrates the hope we have deep inside to embrace the teachings of our childhoods and perhaps witness a miracle and be made well.
This year Ash Wednesday holds a different meaning for me. Ash Wednesday marks the four-month anniversary of my departure from ministry. A departure that has been far more destructive to my being than I had ever imagined it could be.
Four months ago I left my job as a minister at a church. I left with the hope and promise of collecting myself and enjoying a sabbatical. An opportunity for me to be still and hear what God was calling me to next. In all honesty, I was holding on with dear life to that call.
I was burned out when I left and had been for close to a year. The idea of leaving the church, leaving ministry was what kept me going. I desperately wanted to escape the self-selected prison of tradition, expectation, miscommunication, and hopelessness that I found myself in.
I wanted to do right by those people that took a chance on me and called me to lead them to the vision of a church outside of the traditional model and in to something that got dirty with the people as it lived an inclusive theology. I got burned. My departure from this community, which I served, was stained with the breaking of my trust. This further inspired anger in me. I was burned out. Banished. Alone. I had no idea. I had no hope. I was in Sheol.
In these four months I have contemplated many things. I have sat under my tree daring God to strike me dead and cursing the day I was born. I have experienced the deepest despair that I have ever known. I visited with God in my “dark night.” I have witnessed beauty. I have smiled and laughed. I have smiled and cried. I have sought God through it all.
God has been silent. God has been vocal. God has been invisible. God had been visible. God has been with me, sitting next to me listening to my pleas. God has held me, mourned with me, and wiped the tears from my cheeks. I have not doubted Gods presence as much as I have begged and pleaded for God to deliver me from this place. I have offered to trade and barter what I have left in order to entice God to reveal these waiting secrets to me.
This Thursday will be 123 days since I left ministry. 123 days of weeping and mourning. 123 days of reframing my understanding of call. 123 days of hoping for hope. 123 days of searching for peace. 123 days praying for eyes to see. 123 days waiting for a sign.
I am not sure if I will ever return to ministry. “They” say that there are fewer and fewer pulpits to fill. I believe this to be true. I wonder if I ever was called to fill a pulpit. Not all ministers are called to a pulpit.
I am hoping that with Ash Wednesday that I might renew my hopes. That God might not forget me. That I may find the courage, strength, and endurance to wait on God. I am not patient by nature.
I trust that God has a blessing for me. I just need to hold on for that blessing. I pray that this Lent I let go of my bitterness, my anger. At the very least I pray that the bitterness depart and that anger get a tinge of righteousness. That I am moved in my righteous anger to act, to serve where ever that might be.
I am weary and weak. I am in need of an extra portion. I can no longer function away from the wellspring of truth. I am in need of that healing balm from that forgotten land.
This Lent I pray that I might give up control of me and trust God to tend to my soul. I pray for death this Lenten season. I want to die to myself. I want to die to you. I want to let go of the image and status I hold in being a minister. I want to embrace the sackcloth and ashes and don the mourner’s cloak. I want to be better when Easter comes. I want to heal from these wounds, so I can dance in the streets at the joyful arrival of the gift of Jesus the Christ.
123 days will have passed, bringing me closer to death. 123 days of hardships and pain. 123 days of joys and smiles. 123 days preparing me for Thursday. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise Thursday is coming and with it I pray death it shall bring.