Multiple times over the past couple of years, people have asked me when exactly I sleep. It's a valid question. As I have looked back over the last 2-3 years it has been pretty amazing. I have written a bunch of articles, dozens of blog posts, launched 2 websites, built a small landscaping business for teens, assembled a teen mentoring program and advisory board, and managed to secure some grant funds along the way. I think I have honored my family during that time and my "day job" as a minister pretty well, but it hasn't been easy. There are many days that I wish I could have more sleep. I usually go to bed at about 9:30-10:00 and am up at 4:00 to get started with a workout.
Initially I thought I would burn out if I didn't reach a certain funding level within the first year. And I might burn out! I am open to that possibility. A friend asked me when, "How are you going to do all this?" I told him that I felt like I had discovered a 5th gear that I didn't know I had. The only way I can explain it is to say that somehow I found something worth doing. Something that is worth laying my life down for. I want to see teenagers come alive and be ready for life here and now and the hereafter.
For the first 9 years of my ministry I had great difficulty inhabiting my role as minister. I enjoyed what I was doing and it had meaning but, we also lost a home in that time and I struggled to feel at home as a pastor. Certain parts of the role did not seem to fit me that well. To some degree that is normal for most young ministers. Over time I made some peace with that and youth ministry always felt right. But, the biggest nagging sensation that I had was that I had fallen in love with missional theology in seminary. I had the chance to learn from one of the people who invented the term and ate up the content. It was like a breath of fresh air. So much so that all I wanted to do was get back out into the church. But, when I got into the church all I had time to do was do church ministry. And much of that was good, but I struggled to figure out what my missional calling was. I was trying to propel others out into the world and I couldn't name where I was called to engage the world. I served on some county boards and created community forums on drugs and gangs, but nothing really felt like home. Nothing felt like the right use of my particular gifts and talents. Nothing propelled me out of bed or kept me awake at night with fascination until I sort of tripped over teens, faith, jobs, and youth ministry 3 years ago. It was a like a bunch of tributaries of my life suddenly slammed together in a massive confluence of baptismal waters.
There was about a 4 month period where I think my wife and I worried about my mental health because I was lost in constant thought. I had staggered into a new kind of idea and didn't know what to do, but every time I sat still I was flooded with thinking and the need to write things down. There was an urgency that was kind of terrifying. I started carrying a notepad around because I couldn't contain it all. It was really weird. There were actually a couple of times where I wondered if I was having a kind of manic episode. It was the closest encounter with ecstatic mysticism or revelation that I have ever had.
What began to emerge was a profound new awareness about the previous chapters of my life that kind of makes me sad. Many friends kept asking me if I was taking time to rest. I felt guilty about my pursuit at times because I had done so many prayer retreats that made me wonder if what I was doing was wrong. So many had lifted up the virtues of silence and reflection that I wondered if what I was doing was just reckeless and stupid. Was I ignoring the voice of God or following it? Should I have been reflecting more? Maybe. Was there too much doing, doing, doing? Certainly there is too much doing in our culture, but there came a point where those voices began to sound like there own kind of fundamentalism. I started to get the sense that for a season of life I had found something that I HAD to pursue with everything. I have learned to rest in different ways and I have had to be much more intentional about my family time since I started. But, I couldn't escape the fact that even while I asked those reflective questions and was worried about my pace...I was FILLED with joy. I had never ever enjoyed any professional season of my life more. I had never found the work of my hands and mind so meaningful. Just last week I was sweeping out the yard of an old rental property with 3 of my crew members. It was cold and I was already sore. But, I felt like weeping with thankful joy. It was odd. The only time I have ever felt that tide of thanks was for my wife and when our children were born. So what do I think I learned?
I think my sad discovery was that I had spent a significant amount of time during the first 30 years of my life...bored.
When I think back, I look at all the time I spent in school, playing video games, or watching sports and see a lot of listlessness. I worked hard at what I did in life and I was faithful to my call when I became a minister. And generally I was quite content. But, I was trying to fill my life with forms of entertainment that often felt fine, but didn't really add anything transcendent to me and didn't transform my world in any particular way. Going to school was always interesting to me, but it never required enough of me. It was like running a 400 when you are built for 5K's. I have come to learn about myself that I need something new to pursue. I like exploration that is filled with challenge more than anything else. I need new ideas and new places, but more than anything I need something to lay my life down for. Jesus' words in Luke 9 have become the truest and deepest words I know. "For he who wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it." I think what I had really been longing for wasn't just a missional calling, or a new adventure, but something worth every bit of my blood, sweat, and tears. I needed a way to bless my neighbor that crushed me and wrung me out.
What I think I have found was a calling that combined my love for teens, my love for God, the desire to use my body, my ability to persuade through vision, and something that allows me to expand constantly into new areas. And so as I look at so many of my teens who have a kind of spiritual malaise or anxiety about them I wonder much of what I see in the teens and adults is a kind of spiritual boredom. I don't mean religious boredom when I say 'spiritual' either. I mean a kind of gnawing boredom at the core of the human spirit. We have not afforded people the opportunity to find the things that light their God given bulbs. We have not engaged them in opportunities to discover things worth dying for. Their time is full. Their schedules are packed. Their education (in some cases) is robust. But, what they have not had is the chance to discover who they are enough to discover something worth everything. I hope what I am doing can help students and fellow ministers find something that approximates that in their own way. I have a sense that so much of our sources of entertainment and pursuits of happiness are simply efforts to fill that void.
The video above struck me because when the guy said, "This has consumed my life because I let it. Because I enjoy it." I knew exactly what he meant.
That is ministry worth pursuing.