Staying The Course
I'm guessing we've all experienced the tendency to take the things we are most familiar with for granted. Whatever the Thing is, over time we become too close to It to see It with any sort of realistic perspective. We "lose the forest for the trees", and can even go so far as to experience the other old adage that "familiarity breeds contempt." It's pretty common, and I think we all do it. I've heard it said several times that of all the things we don't have complete clarity about, our greatest lack of clarity comes at the level of understanding our own lives...much less being able to assess them with anything near what could be called sober objectivity.
I'm pretty much a master at this whole losing perspective, losing clarity, losing objectivity thing.
And lately its been happening to me concerning Genlife - both the things happening now, and the dreams we hold for the future of the ministry. At the beginning, when we first set out, all our efforts were attended by a driving urgency and conviction - a conviction born out of a real, objective evaluation of the Good we wanted to do in the world. Our intentions were good, our plans creative and exciting, the need was undeniable and the moment ripe for action. It all made sense. It was needed.
But then, over time, the struggles, the roadblocks, the disappointments -- they came to the fore and filled the majority of my thoughts, sweeping away the epic thoughts that came when we first were viewing the ministry within the context of the Big Picture, replacing them with the commonplace, nitty-gritty details of the daily grind.
Now, I'm sure part of this shift is the simple process of the "Why" (that was the catalyst for doing it at all) being replaced over time by the "How". And some of that is probably quite inevitable - perhaps even necessary. And yet we know the Bible warns that "without a vision the people perish", and so losing touch with the "Why" even in the midst of the daily "How" can be a dangerous and deadly thing.
But I don't think that Logistics replacing Vision is the only thing I'm feeling, or what we all so often experience in the context of pursuing our personal hopes and dreams. I also think its hard for anyone to cling to a vision without the proper support and encouragement. All too often the people in our lives that should have been our biggest fans don't end up being there for us at all when it comes to validating our dreams. And it can be really hard to live with continual conviction that what you are doing really matters when no one else seems to think that what you are doing really matters.
Now, I don't want to sound like a Victim here - like this sort of thing only happens to me. I have a feeling that this is an all-too familiar experience, this lack of validation and this dearth of reminders that our dreams are good, meaningful, and important enough to be celebrated and encouraged. Sadly, although we can all hope to receive the kind of encouragement and validation we long for, I don't think we can reasonably expect it - not in today's world, anyway.
I just don't think anyone ever taught us that this kind of guarding the dreams of others was our role or responsibility.
Sure, in our softer moments we are all moved by Josh Groban or Selah singing "You raise me up so I can stand on mountains..." but ultimately our national spirit (and the spirit of the Age in most all first world cultures) is built upon the worship of "autonomy". Independence. Self-sufficiency. I've got this. There's a reason Nike's slogan for years has been "Just Do It", and not "Need A Hand?" Needing anything from others, even their encouragement or validation, is ultimately, by our values, a sign of weakness.
Which is why having a "Barnabas" in your life, a "son of encouragement" is a rare gift indeed -- it's hardly something we can expect to run across on a consistent basis. Certainly not anywhere near to the level that our needs demand. We have been taught that we are custodians of the gifts and visions and purposes that God has given us as an individual, with a responsibility to see they are used well. But have we ever accepted that our wider responsibility, and our greatest influence, is found in seeing ourselves equally the custodians of the gifts, visions, and purposes of those around us? Will we one day be saddened by our own self-absorption (even though it was for good things), when we see all the unfinished work that was not necessarily ours to do, but was yet our responsibility to see it done?
But of course, even in this dark world, occasionally encouragement does come, if we are on the look-out for it. Thankfully, the other day I had the chance to be reminded vividly that the general malaise, lack of encouragement, and personal loss of objectivity were combining to lead me away from the true goodness of what our ministry does. I was speaking with a young volunteer leader at a local church, and we were lamenting this church's unwillingness to allocate resources of time, money, and personnel to the needs of the young adult community. He told me of three separate recent instances where young unmarried women, pregnant and alone, came to the church looking for counsel. On all three occasions -- for whatever reasons - they didn't find the help they needed. And on all three occasions, they went on to chose to destroy the beautiful life growing inside them.
When I heard about these young women, I didn't know whether to weep or to rage. Understand, this church they came to in search of support and godly counsel is a large church with plenty of resources -- a church whose leadership I have spoken with multiple times over the past few years, begging them to commit more time and resources to the college students and young adults in their church and in the surrounding area. But they've made it clear time and time again that this age just isn't a high enough priority in their overall mission. Yes, in spite of the staggering statistics that show how the Church in America is losing this age group at a furious pace. And all I could think was: these young women...those unborn children, who might have been peers and playmates to my own 9 month old son someday...it all could've been so different.
Which immediately reminded me of our own dear, sweet Beth...
When Beth started attending our young adult worship nights in 2015, she was still a few weeks away from discovering that she was pregnant with twins. Over the next eight months or so Beth walked through some pretty dark times. She was convinced that she didn't have all that would be needed to raise these two babies alone. She considered adoption, but had no peace. (Before we discovered that we were having our third child just two months after the twins were due, Beth was even seriously considering asking US to adopt them.)
And then one day I receive a text from Beth saying she just can't do it any longer, and is thinking it might be best to just...end her pregnancy.
In a heartbeat I was on the phone with Beth, praying for wisdom and words in my heart even as I was doing everything in my power to talk her down from that particular ledge. Not on my watch, was all I could think. Those precious baby girls are going to live! We talked and talked, and I felt I had to hold her to the phone until it seemed like the tide of her hope and strength was returning. When I finally hung up, I thanked God over and over that I had been given the chance to play some small role in this drama of life and death. I really didn't know exactly just how large a role I, or the ministry, had played until recently, when Beth wrote, "You played a crucial role in my choosing life for the twins. I genuinely was alone at the time in every sense of the word...and having a night devoted to worshipping with you all twice a month helped to give me the hope and the strength to press on, in addition to all of the love and prayer I was supported with on those nights."
In the end, Beth stayed the course, fought the fatigue, and finished the race. And so this week, two sweet, dearly loved little girls, Hannah Grace and Willow Rose, will be celebrating their first birthday.
And I am poignantly reminded that even when it seems that no one else believes this ministry matters, even when obstacles loom so large they blot out the sun, even when the waves of my own self-doubt threaten to wash me down -- even then, I can know that our original, more objective beliefs, were right on: This IS needed.
And yes, so is your encouragement, your prayers, and your support. We aren't just kidding when we say we can't do this without you...