You can choose how to respond
Amy tucks her kids into bed and one of them suddenly declares, "Mom, I forgot my science project is due tomorrow!"
Sarah steps into a meeting at work and the first words spoken are, "We're having layoffs."
Christy stares across the table into the eyes of her boyfriend as he says, "Maybe we should see other people."
Miranda sits on the edge of her seat in the clinic as her doctor shares the report with a sigh. "I'm sorry, but the cancer is back."
We will all face moments like these in different ways. What they have in common is their ability to go straight to the brain. Did you feel yourself tense up as you read them? Did an emotion like anxiety or dread begin to well up inside? Did you wonder, "What if that happened to me?" Then you've just experienced all three parts of your brain working together.
My daughter’s declaration of independence changed all my plans
I wasn't ready for it. After all, she's only just turned 8. And what 8-year-old do you know who's called an after-dinner meeting to tell you gently but categorically that "it's just not working anymore"? That she "can't stand another day of living in your house"? That she's leaving.
I had to choke back my urge to giggle, but I realized from the look in her face she was deadly serious. The reality of her decision had been weighed up. She fully believed this was the only way forward. She didn't want to hurt my feelings, but enough was enough. She would be going to Tom's family; she knew the way, (even in the dark, she reckoned). She would ask them if she could go and live with them.
It took a crisis in our home to make me stop and wake me up to reality
“Does your family demonstrate a spirit of peace?” I heard the preacher say. “No!” I yelled inside myself. Little did anyone know, our family was in a state of crisis. Our oldest son’s behavior was getting worse every day; he was finally diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, and depression; and our three-year-old was picking up on our older son’s negative behavior and attitude. Having the diagnosis was a relief, but we still had no idea how to deal with our son’s mental state and bring love and peace back to our home. Our marriage was suffering as a result of exhaustion in dealing with it all. To say our home was void of peace would be an understatement. It was in shambles.
All of this was happening while I would be traveling to speak at various conferences and events, writing articles, and producing shows in my city on social justice issues. Projects that usually would energize me were exhausting me of all I had, leaving me wanting to avoid family issues when at home.
Leading and serving should not come at the cost of our own health and well-being
When Solomon decided to build a temple for Yahweh, it took seven years to complete the task. And no wonder. It was both enormous and ornate. 1 Kings 6:34-35 reads, “There were two folding doors of cypress wood…decorated with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers—all overlaid evenly with gold.” The specificity and care that went into planning and constructing the temple communicate that God cares where he dwells.
Many years later, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “[Our bodies] were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies....Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:13-19). If God dwells in us, what we do with our bodies matters—to him as well as to us.
However, Christians often elevate the spiritual realm above the physical realm—perhaps unknowingly influenced by a rogue strain of gnosticism that infiltrates our postmodern culture. As a result, we devote substantially more time and energy to praying, reading Scripture, and planning for our small groups than we do caring for our bodies. I discovered the problems with this logic firsthand.
Is it time to take care of yourself?
Before a new year begins, I choose a one-word focus for the year to come. For me, the chosen word serves as a declaration of sorts: “In the new year, no matter what, I will be/will have ___.” For example, my word for 2014 is “bold.” In 2014, no matter what I am facing, I will be bold.
A few years ago in 2011, my word for the year was “healthy.” I had just completed a three-month sabbatical from my pastoral leadership role at my church. My life in leadership had led me to a pretty unhealthy place emotionally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.
While I was on sabbatical, God did significant restorative work in all areas of my life. On January 1, 2011, I was staring down re-entry into my demanding job with all kinds of new challenges and old triggers. I was scared that it wouldn’t be long before I was completely unhealthy again: stressed, exhausted, overweight, and overworked.
I learned to put my sex life before church life
How many women do you know who are serving in the church, on the board of their children’s Christian school, at the local mission serving food, sponsoring prayer meetings—doing mighty kingdom work for the Lord—all while neglecting their husbands, who are at home waiting to make love? Yes, make love—the anomaly of countless marriages.
I know of several women who epitomize this kind of lifestyle; in fact, I know one woman very well—me. My life looked that way as a new Christian. With all the passion and zeal I had inside me, I allowed ministry to be the purpose I longed for while my marriage was simply an added byproduct.
From the time Omar and I were married, we added children to our family, argued very little, trusted one another—enjoyed each other’s company; however, our marriage was passable at best. Enhancing passion was not a concern I had. My thoughts were, I’m married, I have four children—passion is a misleading invention created on television.
An interview with Executive Director of Renovaré, Rachel Quan
During college, Rachel Quan’s spiritual journey was shaped by the book Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster’s formative work on the spiritual life. Today Quan serves Renovaré USA—founded by Foster in 1988—as its executive director, bringing with her a wealth of experience from a rich career in church, parachurch, nonprofit, and business leadership. GFL recently spoke with Quan about leadership, spiritual formation, and her Wonderdog, Brooks.
Rachel, tell us about the work of Renovaré (a Latin word meaning “to renew”) and the role you play there.
Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Marti Ensign, Roger Fredrikson, Bill Vaswig, James Bryan Smith, and others had a vision for spiritual renewal and lifelong discipleship to Jesus, and they helped to form the ministry. We believe that the Kingdom of God is here and now and that the abundant life Jesus promised is available to everyone and anyone. We aren’t just waiting for our abundant life in heaven. We can really live into that abundant life now. Our passion as a ministry is helping people become more like Jesus. People who desire to become more like Jesus have an impact on the world they live in.
“Executive director” is just a fancy title for doing whatever it is that needs to be done to continue to promote the vision and mission of the ministry. I see my key role as one of team builder—bringing the team together that takes the message with them wherever they go. We have an incredible board, ministry team, and staff who write, speak, and share the work. They are from all walks of life, different denominational traditions, and various ages. We aren’t about one personality doing all of the writing and speaking. Richard was the one who started this—always bringing along new leadership with him wherever Renovaré was invited. We continue that to this day.
Just put down your phone and walk away
Shunda shares the pastorate of a mid-size church in upstate New York. Her responsibilities span preaching, the youth group, evangelism, and community activism. A multi-talented single woman (she sings, plays guitar, writes, and even paints from time to time), Shunda works unending hours.
Maybe it’s because she loves her sheep. Maybe it’s because people contact her, rather than her married colleague, during “off peak” hours. Maybe it’s because she’s a night owl. Maybe it’s a combination.
Like many church leaders, Shunda “sabbaths” on a weekday. She and I chatted online one afternoon on her sabbath day. At one point her response rate went from immediate to delayed.
“Sorry,” she typed after about 10 or so minutes passed. (This is an eternity on instant messaging.) “My social media is blowing up. A couple of peeps are poking me on Facebook, and another person is texting me—all about church stuff. Don’t they know it’s my day off?”
“Perhaps you might consider silencing or turning off your phone? Ignoring Facebook messages?” I returned.
Fellowship looks different for introverts and extroverts
“I see a blind spot in your article.”
“I do affirm the articles’ primary points: the dangers of isolation, that the distinctive demands of pastoral ministry require support from those who understand those demands, that such support should be intentional, and that, for women, the situation is even more distinctive, requiring that women network together,” he said.
“The blind spot is one of extroverts. The kinds of support you describe highlight groups, describing group interaction as the best way for appropriate support to happen. All that is, to an introvert, discomforting.”
Dan and I have engaged this topic several times. We laugh at the parts that we appreciate and love about one another that are completely opposite. These same parts can drive us crazy. Our differences are beyond simply “female stuff” and “male stuff.” I am an extrovert, and Dan is an introvert. These are two dimensions of personality types, and they are grounded in how a person is energized.
Cocooning Is Crucial for Spiritual Transformation
Darkness is rich with theological meaning. Our first thoughts may be of evil things, ala “the powers of darkness.” But there are other applications. Darkness hides things and people, like Nicodemus’ first meeting with Jesus under the cover of night. From the darkness, chaos, and formless void God formed all created matter, and God’s Spirit hovered over the deep. When Jesus’ breathed his last on the cross, darkness covered the earth—an early afternoon sky looked like that of late evening. In the darkness of the Holy of Holies within the Temple, God dwelt.
We don’t know what darkness means. It may offer and provide good, ill, and everything in between. We can’t see what’s in front of, behind, or around us. Fear easily seizes us, and anxiety grips our minds, robbing us of our well-being.
Biologically and spiritually speaking, darkness is an incubation space where the conditions for development are precisely as they need to be. It is in the darkness of the cocoon (of the womb, of the tomb) where God does some of God’s best work: shaping God’s beloved into who they are meant to be.
During economic difficulties, we discovered the power of example
When my husband and I came to a new church plant immediately after seminary, we knew there were going to be some financial challenges for the small congregation. They had only 10 members and about 40 attending, including children. But they were a devoted, expansive-minded people, which gave us hope for the future of the church. And they offered us a livable wage, which was extremely important for a family of five. Because of their commitment, the church thrived in those early years. People gave sacrificially and the church grew.
The problem came several years in. We had grown by that point to around 200 people and had rented a larger, more expensive facility to hold everyone. And in the earliest days of the church, the pastor’s office was in our home, but it soon became clear that this was less than ideal since the church needed a secretary and extra space for Sunday school. So when office space opened up across the street from the community center where we met, it seemed the perfect solution.
But as any church plant grows, the congregation’s commitment to that church diminishes. The 200 did not feel as invested and determined to see the church grow as the original 40 who liberally gave of their time and money and who had a clear vision for the church. So after several months of increased expenses, our budget began to run in the red.
Examining the leader’s personal relationship to money
Money complicates ministry.
Sure, there is the difficulty of talking about money in your organization – sermons and stewardship campaigns. Salaries and budget shortfalls. But that’s really the easy stuff.
What about a leader’s personal relationship with money?
I am a ministry leader and a pastor’s wife. While I earn money through my writing, teaching and leadership coaching, the bulk of our family’s income comes from my husband’s salary, paid for by our church. It has always been this way for us, nearly 17 years in full-time employment by one church or another.
I am accustomed to making our living through the church. Yet I continue to be troubled by the potential traps and trappings of this arrangement.
Sometimes I am aware that the people in our church watch what we do with our money. Most of the time, however, I don’t feel that they intentionally scrutinize. This is probably partly because we don’t live extravagantly, and partly because a certain standard of living has always been assumed in the communities where we have lived and ministered. If we don’t push the boundaries on either end of this standard, no one bats an eye.
Among the greatest gifts we can give others is a healthy version of ourselves
If I could name one word to describe the most surprising characteristic of life as a leader, it would be the word lonely. It’s not a word they prepare you for, by the way. Yes, I had heard people say that leadership was lonely, but I didn’t really believe them. The leaders who said they were lonely always seemed to be surrounded by plenty of people. They were needed, respected, and frequently sought out for wisdom and counsel.
Then one day I experienced it. With more leadership responsibility than I’d ever had before, I couldn’t shake the aching loneliness I felt. I too was surrounded by people, lots of them, but most of them needed me for something I could do for them. My circle of people who just wanted to be with me without needing me was shrinking fast. I didn’t want anyone and I wanted everyone at the same time.
Suffering reveals the impotence of our idols
From our cabin in Wisconsin there’s a long, sweet swim to a raft anchored a few football fields’ length out. It belongs to the Reeves, dear generational friends who are like family. Their men do all the work of hauling the raft out and in each summer, of rescuing, repairing, and returning it to the depths when storms on Green Bay overpower it. Those four-foot waves can break the heavy chain to the anchor as if it were a string, carrying the six-hundred-pound raft to shore and tossing it up on the rocks as if it were a child’s plastic inner tube. Sometimes we stand inside the safety of our cabins and watch, in awe of the storm, in awe of the power of God.
When God shakes the world of a believer, it is no longer judgment, but mercy. We have stones in our hearts, and shaking can loosen those stones so that they may be removed. God’s purpose is healing.
Recently, dear friends of mine began walking through the wilderness. Ed was a pastor with a great deal of warmth who elevated Scripture, but when I visited his church and listened to him preach, his sermon seemed man-centered instead of gospel-centered. Man-centered sermons tend to focus on what we can do instead of on the glory and the power of God. Though this may not be the pastor’s intention, the effect is that individuals listening then try to change themselves mechanically instead of concentrating on intimacy with God. And basically—it doesn’t work. Unless Christ is continually exalted, our hearts remain cold, and we do not long to abide in Him, so we do not bear lasting fruit.
I just like my latte extra hot
When I go into Starbucks, I want my order to be just right. I prefer that my latte be made with one percent milk, two shots of espresso, and two shots of vanilla. I like it low foam and extra hot. But that’s a little what you might call high maintenance, so I restrain myself from asking for all five at once!
The same invisible force that nudges me to test the barista’s memory—and patience—is at work in you right now. The force determines what you say and how you say it. It is the crayon that colors your past and will write your future. It is a complicating factor in your relationships with God and other people. And it requires constant tending. Yet my guess is that you’ve never thought very deeply about how this force works, when it formed, and where you really stand with it. That force?
Learning how to respond to life’s many invitations
I’ve written two books. If I were asked to write a third book, I don’t know if I would say yes or no. I would have to discern. I would have to listen to know what would give me life in this season. Right now, starting a book feels less appealing than the invitation to notice the myriad of transcendencies just out my door. Still, I have said yes to the invitation to write some “shorts” on spiritual practices for Gifted for Leadership. These short articles might leave me time to dabble in the transcendencies. But how did I come to the “yes?”
Saying yes is part of my nature. (Saying no is part of my husband’s nature). I came from the womb saying yes. It is a congenital propensity. My mother says I said yes to everything. Yes to climbing corn cribs; yes to hauling my brother onto farm equipment; yes to putting him under the gasoline spigot; yes to filling his overall pockets with eggs from the chickens. It hasn’t changed. I still don’t want to miss out.
Have you heard of the acronym FOMO? Fear of Missing Out? A chaplain at Harvard told me FOMO accounted for the compulsive busyness of students and faculty. I suspect FOMO fuels more than students and faculty. It fuels “yeses” of every possible ilk. FOMO keeps us at it. We accept every invitation we get. We burn the candle at both ends. We strive, we work, we travel, we win so we can say we’ve been there and done that. We have lived.
My ministry is more powerful when I can be the person God made me to be
I would sit on our front porch, my lap filled with jean cutoffs and a bundle of embroidery threads. For hours I’d create sunflowers, peace signs, and butterflies across a canvas of Levi blue.
Back then I remember returning home stoned, to my family seated at the dinner table, “Leave It to Beaver” style, with my empty chair waiting. As I sat, I hoped against hope that my friends told the truth when they insisted that, unlike cigarettes, marijuana smoke was undetectable.
Last year, when a friend and I swapped rebellious-youth stories, I realized that when I stopped smoking pot, I stopped embroidering my jeans.
Creativity was a huge part of my childhood. I filled canvases with modern art and reams of wide-ruled notebook paper with Poe-like prose. Yet in my 14-year-old mind, when I came back to Jesus, I reasoned that I needed to flush my artistic bent down the toilet along with my stash. And the loss has taken a toll on what Thomas Merton might call my “true self”— the self that is made in God’s image to do what God has gifted me to do
Why I plan to live with less intention
My New Year’s resolution this year is unusual, really more of an anti-resolution. My hope is to become less intentional.
Less intentional, you ask? Why on earth would a person want that? I’ll explain.
I’m a strategist by nature. I process things rationally, assessing situations, coming up with recommendations, tinkering mentally with life issues and circumstances. I’m also fast-moving leader and productivity-oriented, a fit-it-all-in, get-it-done kind of girl.
Put these two together and you can see that intentionality isn’t a problem for me. Coming up with goals and moving toward them is pretty much how God made me.
There are many upsides to these character traits, and I thank God for how he wired me. Lately, though, I’ve been seeing the downsides that such attributes can bring if left to their own devices.
Last fall I was talking with a friend about her son’s preschool teacher. She described the middle-age woman, well-known and respected in their community, as “very intentional but lacking in freedom.” On paper, the woman is inspiring–a remarkable gardener and excellent cook; a restorer of furniture and exemplary homemaker; a person who’d cultivated many talents and utilized her resources well. ”But she comes across as kind of joyless,” my friend said, “and her relationships with her (now adult) children seem strained.”
After September 11, would we ever be free from terror?
Ten years ago my husband and I embarked on a year-long adventure at sea with our four sons. One leg of our journey took us to Albany, New York, where we docked our boat at a marina on the Hudson River. We’d planned to be in New York City by then, but we’d made a spontaneous decision to take a road trip to Boston for the weekend instead.
A routine check-up for managing all of our life roles
When I start to feel drained of energy, or when I snap at people or feel resentful when I'm asked to help, these are my clues that my life is out of shape. Usually saying yes to too many opportunities is what pushes me over the edge. When life starts feeling like it's getting out of control, it's time to stop and assess priorities. Here's a check-up I use to assess the shape I'm in. Maybe it'll help you too.
It’s not about me.
Eleven months ago I stepped out of full-time ministry to give birth to my first child. After working for nine years as a pastor and one year as a hospital chaplain, I knew the transition from ministry to motherhood would be stretching; but I had no idea how stretching.
In place of writing sermons, I now change diapers. In exchange for developing and implementing new programs, I now help my son build towers out of wooden blocks. Instead of poring over commentary by Barth and Calvin, I now read Dr. Seuss. My presence is no longer needed at 8 a.m. staff meetings, but I am now required to show up for all 3 a.m. feedings. Needless to say, life is no longer about me! But, my son’s presence has encouraged me to reconsider the fact that perhaps God never intended my life to be about me to begin with.
What can parents do to bring their prodigal back home, literally or figuratively?
With our daughter, we maintained a relationship with her throughout her struggle. I think keeping a connection is an essential part of loving your prodigal child. As difficult as it can be, parents need to stay in contact with that child. Don't cut them off. Show your love for them. That doesn't mean you accept what they're doing. In fact, we were always clear with Sheryl that we didn't like her lifestyle. Your child might say, "What I'm doing is me. If you don't accept that, you don't accept me." If that happens, it's important to say, "You are not your behavior or your lifestyle. You have value apart from what you do. And we love you as a person. We value you as a person."