Saturday, September 24, 2011

Faithful Fallowness

Harvest has been such a huge metaphor in my life of ministry.  I have spent years sowing God's word and my very life into the lives of those God has entrusted to my care.  I have planted, tended, nurtured, watered, weeded, and waited for years.  And in God's faithfulness I have seen some beautiful harvests during my years of ministry.  This June began my fourteenth year since I began full time ministry after graduating from seminary.  But this year is significantly different from the last thirteen.  For the first time in my grown up life, full-time ministry is not the primary focus of who I am.  My feelings about this have been mixed.  While I did not choose to be in this place, the relief washing through me is palpable.  People have commented how vast the difference in my appearance is:  apparently carrying invisible burdens shows up in ways we cannot guess; conversely, laying said burdens down translates into a very cheap face lift!

The thing I have become most aware of in the last few months is a deep exhaustion.  It has nothing to do with how much sleep I get, whether I'm rested, or have free time in my day.  It is as if thirteen years of fully carrying the needs of those in my care, had left a build-up of soul residue that was never properly released.   I couldn't release it; I didn't know how.   And for the first time I am no longer responsible for anyone's spiritual well-being but my own. Those extra burdens had become toxic.  God, in His mercy, moved me out of those circumstances and activated the release valve for me.  The toxicity has been working its way out of my heart, mind, soul, and body.  I have struggled with the feeling that I am being unfaithful, yet nothing in me wants to pick up any other kind of burden right now.  I just don't have the strength to carry it. 

Many people wrestle with answering God's call on their lives.  Usually this involves some kind of stepping out and beyond themselves, leveraging their resources on the behalf of others.  In fact the Bible Study I've been in is specifically centered on this call, using the book of Jonah as a picture of ways that we rebel against God when He wants us to serve our neighbor.  Usually we find creative ways to hide or run away.  But the call on my life in this strange season is so fundamentally different.  God is not asking me to go and give myself into another ministry.  Instead I have sensed the Still Voice within asking me to rest.  To be.  To be still and know His Stillness.  Running away would look like gathering up my life to pour it into something else.  A new ministry, another full-time position, a title, a job description, a mission to rescue the perishing, a whole new field to start planting and harvesting.  Faithfulness right now looks alot like laziness to me.  To let the field of my life lay fallow.

Really?!  Is this really it?!  Am I to relinquish the desire of my heart to deliver the life changing message of Salvation?  Am I to let go of the sowing of my time and effort into sheep who need a patient and steady hand to guide them into fold of the tender and good Shepherd?  Am I to stop arranging my life so someone else can experience the grace of God?  Well, yes.  Because over time in the delivering, guiding, and arranging somehow I became unable to experience the saving, tending, and gracing God provides me.  I think it has something to do with sabbath rest.  Even good work is still work.  We still must rest from our labors, even when they center on the good of God's people.

The Holy Spirit began to show me a different image of what this year is to be for me: 

But in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the LORD:  you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.  You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine:  it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.  Leviticus 25:4-5

A year of complete rest.  And this is for the Lord.  I can honor Him, love Him, and serve Him this year by allowing the field of my life a complete rest.  Holy cow!  This is so hard!  And yet I feel so completely unable to bear anything else.  I can only guess what lies ahead after this respite.  But God won't give me any indication that something else does lie ahead.  He just continues to be Still, inviting my weary soul into His Stillness too.  I love it there.  I'm so hungry for it.  How can I not go?

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