When You Have To Compromise Commitment

Few things frustrate me more than people who can’t keep a commitment.

I can’t even count the number of last-minute texts I’ve received with a message saying, “I can’t make it.” Commitment and follow-through is severely lacking in our generation.

So when I found myself having to back out of a pretty big commitment I made, I felt like a failure.

Last month I stepped down from leading a small group in my church. It was difficult decision, partially because I love teaching and partially because commitment is a huge value for me. It’s an integrity issue. I take pride in my follow-through.

But probably to a fault.

My church has a unique format in that we have small groups that meet around a tri-county area. Rather than the traditional corporate service on Sunday mornings, we break up into groups of around 25 in people’s homes. It takes some getting used to at first, but most people love the intimacy of a smaller group.

I started leading a group in September of last year. Before that, I had taken a break for 2 years during a major life transition (i.e. marriage) so I was really excited to start leading again. We expanded the number of groups this past year so it was perfect timing for me and the church. They needed another leader and I was ready to jump back in.

But soon after I started leading the group, things got complicated.

This was the first time I had led a small group as a married man so the dynamic between my wife and I was critical. The adjustment wasn’t as smooth as either of us expected. It was a lot of responsibility for us as we were still adjusting to life together. Then as we were working through that, we got pregnant.

So now I had to decide what I was going to do. Do I push through it and honor my commitment or do I bail on the group because life was getting hectic?

I was torn because of the hard line I take on commitment.

I get frustrated when I see people bail on their responsibilities. People get bored and they quit. People find something better to do and they quit. People get lazy and they quit. I didn’t want to quit something I committed to, especially something this important. It was a 7 month commitment and I didn’t take it lightly.

I had to prioritize. What was more important, taking care of myself and my family or keeping a commitment? In the past, I’ve stuck to my commitments way longer than was healthy and it had huge repercussions on my relationships. I didn’t want to do that again. I knew what I had to do.

It was a difficult decision but after praying about it, I made my decision.

I decided to step down.

Once I made the decision, something amazing happened. When I went to my pastor to explain the situation, the first thing he said was, “I completely understand, Tony. You need to take care of your family first. We can find someone else to lead the group.” I was blown away. I had never been in a community that walked out that value.

Sure, I’ve heard it said that family needs to be a priority but I’ve also seen the opposite demonstrated.

A week later, a good friend of mine told me he would be taking over. It was perfect timing because he had just taken some time off and was hoping an opportunity would open up for him.

He was exited for the chance to lead a group.

What I perceived as a failure ended up being a blessing. I was able to take the burden off me and my wife during this next transition and at the same time, open up an opportunity for someone else to lead.

I still believe it’s important to honor my commitments but I have a new grace for quitters. I understanding that it’s not always a black and white issue.

Sometimes we have to honor our season of life over our “yes.”

Have you ever had to quit something before fulfilling your commitment? Did you feel like a failure?

[Photo: Ha-Wee, Creative Commons]

I Will Try To Fix You

In just one year of marriage, my perspective on ministry has changed dramatically. What I thought I knew about ministry just wasn’t working in my marriage. I was at a loss until one small shift changed everything for me.

My problem was, I looked at the Bible like a book rather than a person.

Applying the Bible as a user’s manual was my approach to ministry. If there was a problem, I used the Bible to fix it. Whatever the situation, I could find the appropriate Bible verse. I could then say the right prayer invoking said Bible verse and all would be well. People went on their way and I didn’t have to deal with their issues any longer.

But when I got married, that all changed.

When my wife moved to Florida to be near me, she left everything behind. She left what was comfortable and familiar to start life with someone she had only known for a total of 7 months.

We were engaged immediately after she moved down and 3 months later, we were married. But as the realization set in that her life had completely flipped upside down in a matter of months, things became extremely difficult for her.

She didn’t (and still doesn’t) like Florida. She missed her family and friends back in her home state of West Virginia. She wasn’t feeling a connection with my church or with my friends.

Nothing seemed to be going as planned.

And so I resorted to what I knew best. I looked to the book. I wanted her to stop missing home. I wanted her to stop disliking Florida. I wanted her to stop feeling frustrated at her job. I wanted her to stop feeling disconnected from my life and my community and my friends. I wanted her to hurry up and be happy.

So I tried to use the Bible to fix the problem.

I encouraged her to go to church when she didn’t want to go. I set up times to hang out with friends in hopes that she would see how great they were. I prayed with her. I encouraged her to look for opportunities to be a light at her job.

I said some Bible verses. And I prayed again.

I would pray and things would seem to get better for a while. I was sure things were on the upswing but then just a few weeks later, she would admit that she still didn’t want to go to church, she was still struggling at work and she still didn’t like Florida.

Through all of this, I couldn’t understand why my solutions didn’t work. I felt like she wasn’t trying hard enough and I was doing everything in my power to fix her problems. I was getting frustrating at how long this was all taking.

But relationships are not machines. There are no quick fixes. There are no parts you can replace. There is no software to upgrade.

I couldn’t just use the information of the Bible to make things better.

My wife was experiencing the pain of the passing away of her old life. She was mourning the death of who she was before us. And over time I came to see that not only was this normal, but it was also healthy.

I learned that ministering to my wife wasn’t just praying with her because I should. It wasn’t just reading the Bible together and finding the right verses for our situation. It wasn’t just about looking for a way to fix the problem.

I learned that ministry is listening and giving space for her to be right where she was until her heart healed. Ministry was having compassion for her loss and mourning it with her.

Most importantly, I learned that I can’t fix brokenness.

Broken people aren’t fixed, they’re healed and healing takes time. There is no time limit on healing and my expectation on the results just prolonged the healing process.

Ministry is more than just a book, it’s a person. My wife didn’t need the right words to fix the problem, she needed me. I was the solution.

I realized that ministry isn’t Jesus speaking to me, it’s Jesus speaking through me.

What about you? Have you ever tried to use the Bible to fix things? Did it work?

[photo: kodomut, Creative Commons]

When You’re Worse Than An Unbeliever

If you take 1 Timothy 5:8 literally, you could say that, in my first year of marriage, I was worse than an unbeliever.

If provision means bringing home a bigger paycheck than your wife, you could say I denied the faith.

Two months after saying “I do,” I took a part-time position as the Communications Director for my church in sunny south Florida. This was a dream job for me, doing what I loved in a community in where I had thrived over the past 5 years.

Like any good woman my wife was supportive, even if a bit wary.

Who doesn’t want to see the person they love follow their dreams? So I began the first year of marriage allowing my wife to be the main breadwinner in our family.

I wasn’t just working at the church and then coming home to play video games for the rest of the day (well, not every day). I was also working on a book. I was banking on my writing to be successful enough to provide an additional stream of income. And so what I couldn’t provide in finances, I was determined to provide in love, support and a better quality of life.

I worked part time for an entire year.

This was the first time I had worked part time since graduating college ten years ago. And honestly, it felt weird. I’ve been working in a position that I love with low stress and reduced hours. It’s felt like a vacation compared to every other job I’ve had.

As the year went on, we began to have the conversations about where my position was headed. My hope was for the part time position on staff to turn full time. But a year later, my church wasn’t in a position to increase my hours…or my salary.

I’m confident that God has done some pretty amazing things through my position at the church. I’ve been able to take the email, website, social media and all other forms of communication to the next level. My pastor and all the other staff have given me so much encouragement about the great job I’ve been doing.

But it’s still a part time gig and as a man, it’s been a difficult thing to reconcile.

I’ve been having a bit of a provision crisis.

Up to now, our bills have been covered. Thankfully my wife got a full time position working in the office of the president of an international para-church ministry. The pay is pretty good and we have full benefits. We haven’t lacked for anything since getting married.

Then we got the news that we’re having a baby!

My absolute joy and excitement has been tempered with a sobering reality. I can’t possibly continue working part-time and keep us in a position to cover all our expenses. It’s not just that we can’t afford it, I also don’t feel like I’m doing my part as a provider.

Since the reality set in that what I do is no longer enough to provide for my family, I’ve had a lot of questions. Did I make a mistake on taking this position? Did I not hear God? Did I just want to follow my dream at the expense of my family?

These are difficult questions that I’m still wrestling with.

My wife has been an incredible support through this whole journey but I know she’s felt pressure as the main breadwinner. When we first had discussions about what life would look like with a baby, she was visibly disappointed with the fact that staying home for a season wasn’t on the table. Since the burden was on her while I worked in ministry, we couldn’t possibly afford it.

She’s made some big sacrifices for me to follow my dream.

And while I’m thankful for them, I know it’s time for me to step up and provide for my family in a financial sense. We’re still working through what this looks like for us. It might mean I work another part time job. It might mean I resign from my staff position at the church. I’m in the process of doing what I have to do for my family, whatever the cost.

This has been a learning experience for both of us. In our discussions, we’ve leaned toward more progressive views of gender roles. We wanted to explore what it would look like to buck the trend of the male breadwinner for a season to see what God had for my dreams.

In retrospect, I wonder if I could have put our family in a better position before taking this risk.

Maybe I should have not made this decision in the first year of marriage. Maybe it would have been easier to stay in my full time job.

But maybe we did exactly what we need to do to learn that provision is ultimately in God’s hands. Maybe that verse in Timothy didn’t apply to my situation.

Maybe provision is more than a paycheck.

We partner with God as stewards of what He gives us. That might look like both partners working full time, it might look like only one person working and it might look like something else in between.

I had to do this to learn what was best for my family. It wasn’t a black and white issue I could proof-text with a single Bible verse. I had to live through it to get perspective.

The most important thing I learned was to trust God for our provision and to be open to making adjustments along the way.

What do you think? Are you a husband or a wife? Who brings home the biggest paycheck in your house?

[Photo: Tobyotter, Creative Commons]

Trusting Yourself With Vulnerability

Loneliness has a tendency to make us vulnerable. So in the months after my divorce, when it’s finality set in and I felt the cool breeze sweep across the empty side of the bed, the longing for an intimate connection was an unrelenting ache.

I met her through a mutual friend. She being divorced as well, my friend figured we’d have a point of connection.

And so began my lesson in vulnerability.

I’ll be honest, I loved the attention she gave me. Her calls, texts and instant messages made me feel valuable again. It was the friendship I needed and I began to open up my heart.

We had long conversations and she was a captive audience. Fresh off a season of life in which I lost my identity, it was refreshing to have someone validate my passions. She was a great listener, which made me come alive because it had been a long time since I had felt heard. But soon, the friendship wasn’t enough for her. She was ready for more while I was still in the early stages of healing.

I was content to enjoy the intimacy without the risk of anything more.

Each time the tension built, we backed off to take a break from the friendship. But before long, we would be back to communicating on a daily basis. We created an unhealthy dependency.

Because of this dependency, I had difficulty being honest. I was drunk on attention and didn’t want it to go away just because I wasn’t willing to take it further. It felt good to be wanted again but I was unwilling and unable to reciprocate her feelings. I took what didn’t belong to me. And in doing so, I hurt someone I cared about deeply.

In all this, I learned that vulnerability breeds intimacy —

which can either deepen a healthy relationship or exploit an unhealthy one. When we open our heart, we take a risk but the risk cannot be taken lightly.

There is an art to vulnerability. We cannot put rules and regulations on our heart. However, we can put boundaries in place to help us take healthier risks. Honest communication was the boundary I acquired to protect both my heart and the heart of others.

Healthy vulnerability is built on trust.

When you are honest with yourself and others, it’s always worth the risk.

Have you had good experiences or bad ones with being vulnerable?

[Photo Credit: Krisi Johnson]

When Books Get Banned

I remember when I first heard the book was banned in my local Christian bookstore. I was confused because it was the first book that spoke to me in a long time. Not to mention, it was a work of fiction.

When “The Shack” was first published in 2007 by William Young, the response was polarizing. Some loved it (like me) and others proclaimed it heresy. The book was pulled off shelves of bookstores, there were sermons decrying it’s falsity and the author was all but crucified by his critics.

It happened again in 2011 when Rob Bell released “Love Wins” (which actually asked more questions than it answered). By challenging the typical view many of us have of hell, he was also deemed a heretic. His book was pulled off shelves, blog posts and books were written in response and even well known leaders dismissed him publicly.

Here we are again with Rachel Held Evan’s latest book, “The Year Of Biblical Womanhood“. A major Christian bookstore has banned her book from their shelves. Initially Evans claimed the reason was her inclusion of the clinical term of a woman’s anatomy but that may not exactly be the case. What makes more sense to me is the issue with the ideas she presents in the book about women’s place in the Bible and today’s society.

They key motivation in all of these decisions to ban books is fear.

When new ideas upset the status quo, they are viewed as a threat. In an effort to protect our communities from exposure, we implement control. But rather than protect ourselves, we promote ignorance.

By banning books and recommending others stay away from conflicting ideas, we promote the dangerous concept of rejecting all ideas contrary to our current belief system. Isn’t that how cults are formed?

What we forget is that unity is not uniformity.

There is no reason to be fearful of varying viewpoints, especially on issues not foundational to our belief system.

When we ban books, we are saying that others cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. When we decide what others can and cannot read, we encourage them to trust us and not themselves. We project fear into ideas whether it is warranted or not.

This mindset shuts down forward thinking and new revelation.

The beauty of truth is that it is multifaceted. I like to picture us all sitting around in a circle viewing truth in the center. We’re all looking at the same thing but we each have a different view. You can’t see what I see and I can’t see what you see. We need each other to get the proper perspective.

The other beauty of truth is that it never needs to prove itself. It will stand any test, doubt or outright lie. It is possible to be obscured for a short time by an idea but truth always prevails.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to read books which completely changed my perspective. It wasn’t always that I believed the wrong things, I just had the wrong perspective. If I never read a differing perspective, I would have been stuck with an incomplete revelation of truth.

One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is trust. God knows He can trust us because He has given us His Spirit which will lead us to all truth (John 16:13). If God trusts us that much, shouldn’t we extend that same trust to each other?

How do you feel about banned books?

[photo: Tyler Merbler, Creative Commons]