SE Introduction: Session Three
May all your expectations be frustrated, may all your plans be thwarted, may all your desires be withered into nothingness, that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. Larry Hein. Spiritual Director to Brennan Manning.
As we prepare ourselves to enter into thirty-two weeks of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I’m priming the pump of readiness by telling you just a bit of the story that got me to the place where the Exercises were much needed in my life. I’m hoping by telling some of my story that it might allow you to go back and trace a bit of your God-story, asking a few questions of yourself.
What God-activity has brought me to the place of where I am today in my journey with Jesus?
What inward call of God’s Spirit is wooing me to take a step out of the traffic of my busy life, giving an increased awareness to the activity of God in my life right now?
You see, for me, my journey toward the Exercises began in earnest seven years ago. As I told you last time, in 2008, God began a nearly complete dismantling of both me and my church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After ten successful years of church-planting, growing our church from five couples to well over 350 Sunday morning attenders, two floods hit in 2008.
The first flood was an actual 500-year flood that transformed the normally peaceful Cedar River, which runs through the heart of Cedar Rapids, into a destructive monster that took out hundreds of square blocks of our fair city. Our church was spared from the flood, but for ten consecutive weeks, our little church community became the proud host home for over 800 volunteers who flooded (sorry, no pun intended) into our city to help Cedar Rapids begin the long road back for countless citizens who lost everything in the flood. As I mentioned last time, our church became a beacon of hope during that time, but on Labor Day, 2008, that all changed when our national team of volunteers suddenly had to redirect all their efforts to Galveston, TX, in response to a massive hurricane that hit south Texas with a vengeance.
In the fall of 2008, the second flood hit me and my church. A flood of dismantling. A flood of emotional hardship. A flood so severe, at times, I became dangerously close to leaving the ministry completely.
So let me explain.
In the fall of 2008, our little band of worn-out volunteers tried our very best to continue the commitments we’d made to our city. But slowly and surely, the toll of tiredness and weariness hit us hard. All the while, Sandy and I tried our best to keep our church moving forward. In retrospect, I should have paid much more attention to the tiredness of my team, but as a 3-B pastor who measured all of his success at the time by the three-pronged measuring stick of (B)uilding size, (B)ucks in the offering, and (B)utts in the seats, all I could see was charging the next hill, pushing tired and weary parishioners to start a third weekend worship service when we should have taken a season of rest. Heck, in a fit of 3-B madness, I even came back from a church-growth conference during that season and decided that we needed to change the name of our church so that it would better reflect the city-wide vision God was giving us. Needless to say, many of my loyal leaders at that point, in their tiredness and weariness, threw in their white flags, making a rush for the exits instead of following my lead to take the next hill.
In short, folks throughout the church grew very weary of my 3-B attitudes, and with the devilish help of one remaining volunteer from New Orleans, a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing, our church started to dismantle and fall apart right before my eyes. Suddenly, I found myself in a church that nobody seemed to like anymore. Leaders stopped leading and began leaving instead. Church programs that once worked well, suddenly didn’t. And all the church-growth principles I had successfully used to build the church up to 350 attenders over the last ten years suddenly seem to back-fire, leaving me to wonder when God turned left, while I must have turned right.
Ever been there, folks? Ever found yourself in what feels to be a sinking ship and you can’t find the answers for the life of you?
I’ve told others since then that I often felt like the little Dutch boy who tried to save his city by putting his thumb in the leaking dike. Only for me, the holes in the dike were popping up so fast I just didn’t have enough fingers and toes to stop all the leaks!
But then, God stepped in.
He sent me a pastoral coach. A man who had been through the wars of pastoring. A man who had experienced, first-hand, many of the trials I was facing. A wise man who would fix all of my problems with one wave of his talented hand.
Join us next time for that part of the story.
My prayer: Father, when all hell breaks out around us, I’m so thankful You have never lost control. In Your sovereignty, You always know the top from the bottom, the beginning from the end, even when I can’t find a branch to hang onto in the midst of the raging flood. For that, I say “Thank You, Father, for Your faithfulness in times of trial.” For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Where am I not paying attention to the warning signs around me? How am I operating in ‘status-quo’ mode when the circumstances are screaming ‘stop the engines – take a break – listen for God’ right now? Is my ‘doing business as usual’ attitude digging a hole for me that I’m gonna regret later?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.