Moving on from ministry
When my daughter was 9, she and I were working on her homework together. She had to write a sentence using the word exhausted. She came up with this: “When my mom comes home from work, she is exhausted.” Seriously. Ouch. Now, I worked out of the home two only days a week—so twice a week, apparently, I walked in complaining of a headache and my level of tiredness. That concerned me for a couple of reasons.
First, I want my daughter to grow up knowing she can do for a living whatever she wants to do—whatever she feels God leads her to do—even if it means working outside the home at some point in her life. So it pained me that, despite how much I loved my job, all she knew was that it wore me down.
Second, I had just returned from a vacation. The vacation in and of itself was all fine and good, but re-entry was hard to say the least. In the past, when I’d been gone that long from home and work, I would come back refreshed and could hardly wait to turn on my computer and jot down all the ideas I was struck with while away. But I didn’t come home nearly as refreshed as I would have hoped, I barely gave my job a passing thought, and I came back completely idea-less. Except to entertain the concept of what my life would be like if I weren’t working, something I had never considered. My daughter’s insight into that part of my life wedged itself into my mind and I couldn’t shake it loose.
This led to many questions.
How do you know when to walk away from something?
When something really good just isn’t the best for you?
When something that used to be God’s will for you has ceased being God’s current will for you?
What would happen if I just stopped?
Right around that time, I’d been thinking a lot about moving more slowly. How I ran through my days. How I’d been running through my kids’ childhood. How Jesus calls us to give him our burdens and promises in exchange he will give us rest. To quote author and speaker Keri Wyatt Kent, Jesus never said to us, “Get over here! I have a lot for you to do!” I laughed loudly when she said that. Maybe because it resonated so deeply, maybe because deep down I had actually been believing it.
A good Christian woman serves God. That’s what we’re supposed to do. But are we supposed to run ourselves into the ground? Did I want my children, my daughter especially, equating ministry with exhaustion and meetings and tasks that didn’t really fit who I was anymore?
I had the privilege to go away alone for two days to think all this through. I spent the first day reading my journals from the previous year. If you’re not a journal writer or even only a sporadic one, no big deal, right? But if you’re like me, a fairly faithful everyday journal keeper, well, that’s another story. It took me nine hours to read them. (And I even knew how everything was going to turn out!) When I was finished I had a headache and I was depressed. Why? Because a theme had bubbled to the surface for me in that marathon reflection. Innumerable times I had written something like “I’m low-energy this morning” or “wish I could stay here on the couch in my jammies today…that’s not gonna happen for another week or so.” And it made me sad. It made me sad to think I had filled that past year of my life with activities, many of them that apparently I no longer enjoyed, that I no longer found fulfilling, that just didn’t fit me or my season of life anymore. I was running. But for what? For whom?
If I actually believed I’d been doing all that I was doing to please God, well, I think I had another thing coming. Because to be truthful, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had handed God my day or my agenda and just asked him what he wanted me to be doing. I’d been doing what I’d been doing for so long, and it finally started to sink in that what I was doing and who I wanted to be no longer matched up. I’d been round-hole/square-pegging it for a while. Longer than I wanted to admit. Longer than I maybe even knew.
So I sat with my questions. I asked God if I could stop, if that’s what he wanted for me. I asked for wise counsel from friends who knew me well, from my boss, from my therapist. I read Scripture. I tried to listen for God’s voice in each interaction. I journaled. I took long walks. I thought, I prayed, I waited.
I came to the place of allowing myself to realize and remember that God had called me to an abundant, free, joyful life, not a packed-out, constricting, complain-y, busy one full of activities that I just endured or that sometimes even made me cringe. And this was the best part: Bottom- line, my Heavenly Father was going to love me no matter what. Even if I stopped.
And one morning I outright asked him, “May I quit my job?” with tears running down my face. His gentle response: “Yes. And I will still love you.”
So I did. The very next morning, I walked into my office at church and told my boss and two of my co-workers that I was clearly feeling it was time to step down from my position. I gave six weeks’ notice and began all the wrapping-up work of finishing well a job that I had poured my heart and soul into for four years. And over those weeks of saying goodbye to my work, my colleagues, and my volunteers (though I stayed at the church after I left), mixed with sadness was utter relief. I experienced a peace and a burden being lifted off my shoulders.
I had never planned to leave that job, but it was time and I knew it. God had another person for that position and he had many other things for me as well. I was in a posture of availability for all that God had for me.
So think about it. Are you running too hard, too fast, through your life? Are you stuck in a rut? Has your gift mix shifted? Is your passion area no longer what’s in front of you? Do you wish you could be doing something else, anything else?
Consider stopping, breathing, resting, finding the real you underneath it all, asking God what you should be filling your time with. He will answer when you call.
“Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—my whole life one long, obedient response (Psalm 119:33, MSG).
Elisabeth K. Corcoran started and led the women’s ministry at her church for ten years, then went on to other church ministry roles. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and the author of five books, including At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday (Westbow).