Yes, I said that.
"This isn’t fun anymore." I was referring to my ministry and life in the church. I suspect it went even deeper than that. In general, I was not experiencing very much satisfaction with my life as a Christian.
Maybe you know the feeling:
- You are surrounded by people but feel alone.
- You feel as if many in the church are singing one verse of a song while you are singing another verse — and perhaps even a different song.
- You feel like you are drowning and the people around you are walking by and saying nothing.
- You wonder why life seems to be exhausting and disappointing. This is it?
I can’t point to a year. I can’t point to a situation. I can remember feeling what I just described. Brennan Manning describes this well in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:
We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature. There begins a long winter of discontent that eventually flowers into gloom, pessimism, and a subtle despair: subtle because it goes unrecognized, unnoticed, and therefore unchallenged. It takes the form of boredom, drudgery. We are overcome by the ordinariness of life, by daily duties done over and over again. We secretly admit that the call of Jesus is too demanding, that surrender to the Spirit is beyond our reach. We start acting like everyone else. Life takes on a joyless, empty quality….
Something is radically wrong.
Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the gospel of grace.
Our approach to the Christian life is as absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber’s license and was taken to see Niagara Falls. He studied it for a minute and then said, "I think I can fix this." (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 16)
I spent years trying to fix the church. Trying to fix other people. Trying to fix my family. Trying to fix me. No, I wasn’t alone in that futility. Like an alcoholic surrounded by liquor bottles, I was surrounded by the expectations of others, which only fed that inward desire to fix.
(In particular, I’ve noticed the same thing in many ministers. The expectations are plenty in a church. For a while, a minister thinks he is living up to those expectations. That can only feed a starving ego. It can also become a drug that a minister begins to seek in order to anesthetize the pain. These expectations only get greater and greater with time. Finally, something has to give. So this person either sinks into depression, has a moral meltdown, or feels spiritually and emotionally fried.)
One does not have to live in the bondage of trying to meet others’ expectations. Freedom for me has been found in God’s grace. You and I will always be imperfect people — disappointing others at times and even disappointing ourselves.
Niagara Falls is beyond me. I can only stare at its wonder and beauty. My meager tools and knowledge can’t fix me much less anyone else. Most churches don’t need to be fixed by people with little tool boxes. Most churches just need God.
Does any of this sound or feel familiar to you?