What does a United Methodist pastor do when s/he is absolutely miserable in their appointment? (I think it happens more than we’re comfortable to admit...)
Appointment: The charge or role to which a United Methodist clergy person is assigned by a bishop.
Well, one can pray for a renewed sense of heart or spirit and then wait upon the Lord. Or I suppose another option is to take matters in hand and try to force something to happen.
When I was in this situation, I opted for the latter. It didn’t go so well for me.
Instead of being patient and prayerful, I tried to make certain things happen and it culminated with one of the worst meetings I ever had with a bishop (not that I had many meetings to begin with). I walked out of the bishop’s office and all I could think of was that stupid meme (and movie trope) Record Scratch Freeze Frame: “You’re probably wondering how I got here...”
How I got there was due to my impatience, desperation, and my desire to be in control. I got myself into that mess because I decided to take matters into my own hands. Looking back, had I patiently rode things out, the situation certainly would’ve been different.
The journey that followed was painful and nerve-racking — being stuck in an in-between place. The Bible calls it “the wilderness.” It’s a space many in the Bible were familiar with:
Abraham being promised a son and the the long wait until the actual birth of Isaac…
The Israelites being liberated from slavery and actually arriving to the Promised Land…
David being anointed king and actually sitting on the throne…
Jonah being in the belly of a fish…
The wayward son leaving home and then coming to his senses…
Saul’s journey to Damascus and becoming Paul…
Jesus’ baptism and the start of his ministry…
But it’s in this space between — in this wilderness — where I really encountered God. This space had no room nor time for the lies or the facades. It was space where I was coming to the end of myself; a realization that I got myself into this mess and I wouldn’t be able to get myself out on my own.
That was when I finally stopped fighting and asked God for help.
Richard Rohr talks about the Eastern depiction of the Resurrection. He describes how Adam and Eve are powerlessness to get themselves out of their graves. The only way out is to have Jesus pull them up by their wrists.
I got myself into this. The only way out was by the grace of Jesus Christ.
After weeks of massive anxiety, I finally admitted that I was powerless to do anything on my own. I tried everything on my own and it got me nowhere — maybe further down the hole.
Then I let go. I prayed, “I tried everything and nothing’s working. So help me.”
And… strangely enough, I found peace. I woke up the next day, well still anxious, but noticeably slightly less anxious. And I waited. And I prayed. And I waited. At times I felt like dying because nothing was happening. But one day, the phone rang and things started to fall into place. I began to see the light at the end of this tunnel.
I felt like I entered the space in-between with a massive ego. The time wandering in the wilderness broke me. But when I finally cried for help, God picked me up and put me together, the way God intended me to be.
I love how Mark wrote about Jesus’ time in the wilderness: “He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.”[Mark 1:13b] Even in the wilderness, God didn’t leave Jesus alone.
I felt that same way. My “angels” came in the form of friends near and far offering me words of encouragement, support, and “How can I help?”
God never revealed God’s presence through big miraculous signs like the sky opening and a booming voice coming from the heavens. God reminded me through others: A meeting over a cup of coffee or a Mexican restaurant, or a Pei Wei gift card with a stupid amount of money on it.
I never had lots of money or valuable possessions, but I did have people. I always had people — a cloud of witnesses. I was rich in friends and abundant in love.
In that wilderness wild animals abound--but so do the angels.
I learned a lesson about ego and pride the hard way. But with that lesson came this undying sense that — even when I get too stupid and/or too full of myself — God’s grace abounds. God doesn’t let go. God has always been with me and for me and God will continue to be with me and for me inspire and despite myself.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.