“If we say, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.” Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
I had the opportunity a few years ago to experience what my denomination calls church planting assessment center. Imagine Hollywood Week on American Idol. Long hours of learning the ways God has woven together the unique patchwork of your heart, opportunities to share your testimony in front of your peers and moments of walking down a long aisle where three assessors sit at a table and tell you whether or not you are wired and ready to go and engage as a couple in the kingdom building work of planting new churches.
I walked into the week performing, prepared and properly attired. Church planting is simply starting new churches under the authority of a larger church in our denomination and church planting is statistically proven to be an effective way to share the hope of Jesus with the unchurched. My heart yearns for everyone to know and experience the hope I have in Jesus. I wanted church planting. I deeply desired for God to use me in a place where I felt comfortable enough to swim strongly, I wanted to reach people who were just like me.
Michael Craddock and I sat up front. Michael Craddock loves front row living. There were nine or so other couples in the room with us. Each of the couples is randomly assigned throughout the weekend a time to share both their testimonies and the husband preaches a brief sermon. My desire was to go first. I personally knew I could not sit there and marinate on what I had to say and wrestle with my “I am not enough” demons. Walking into the week I had such an impressive and well prepared speech, I am from total darkness so I believed my story was the kind of story that would certainly be a home run.
But in God’s good plan and perfect timing even with our front row living, Michael Craddock and I did not get the opportunity to stand up in front of the room first, Michael Craddock and I did not even get the chance to share the first night. In God’s good plan, I had to sit and I had to wait. I had to marinate. I had to listen the stories of others and wrestle with the self-pity threads of not being good enough I have woven around my heart. Wrestle with the fact that maybe my story was not that impressive at all. Wrestle with the fact that maybe God wasn’t calling me to what I believed to be was my filet mignon on the buffet line of ministry opportunities.
By the second day around lunch time I still had not had any opportunities to impress anyone. But I found myself sitting next to a pastor I had never met before at lunch, he was an assessor so I had my performance face on. He began to engage my heart and I very safely stayed at the surface. After fifteen years of discussing anything that had to do with the loss of my mother as a child I was very good at rotely responding to questions about my childhood. Beneath all my winding up tight and bootstrap pulling up this was what I had learned to do. But this man wouldn’t let me stay at the surface and I felt the threads from all my winding up tight begin to fray. I could feel hot tears in my eyes. Tears that were supposed to be hidden beneath my tough exterior.
In the waiting I then heard a sermon from 2 Corinthians 12. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
And then the questioning, the unraveling, the wondering if I am defining strength by the ways of the world or by the ways of the gospel. God’s power was made perfect in weakness? God’s grace is enough? I can be content and even boast about my weak places because the power of God rests upon me? Weakness is strength?
As I sat there, tears still so close to the surface from lunch, I thought about these truths From 2 Corinthians. I thought about the gospel. I thought about living a life of pulling up bootstraps and covering up weaknesses and hardships since that graying day in March in the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan on Sycamore Creek Drive. I thought of the years I had spent as a Christian covering up weaknesses with scripture to appear impressive and pulled together. Using scripture as a tool to protect instead of a tool to transform.
In God’s perfect timing, we were called up for our turn almost directly after this sermon from 2 Corinthians 12. Right as I was sitting there in my head planning to rewrite all of the things I wanted to say. Hot tears so close to the surface. All my prepared words written out of a worldly view strength, performing well and impressing others now unraveled in pieces around me. I listened to Michael share and when my turn came some words came out that I knew and had rehearsed and then some other words I wasn’t even planning on saying at all. Something about feeling a deep burden and need for planting churches to bring the hope of Jesus and but then tears.
I began to cry. In front of a room of my peers and a long table of assessors I broke out into a hot mess of embarrassment level tears. The next words I said through sobs went something like, “I want to plant a church but I think maybe I haven’t been a Christian for long enough to be a good church planting wife. I just don’t know all the church songs.”
In all my preparedness and pulling up bootstraps I stood in front of that room and ending up sobbing about not knowing all the church songs. It was like my clenched jaw, the gatekeeper of all of those tears opened wide and every single tear I had bottled up for fifteen years began to flow. The words of my pastor friend and the words from 2 Corinthians were like a branch that just gently touched the surface of my frozen pond and I cracked open completely.
This was the beginning of the gospel unraveling my ideas about strength. My learned behaviors of gate keeping tears and hiding behind walls and verses. This is when I began to see I have so much unraveling to do beneath the surface when it comes to processing what strength looks like in Jesus. I have so many personal requirements for how I believe I should live as a wife, mother and Christian. So many expectations that aren’t grounded in what God requires of me at all. All God requires is that when I am weak, His power is perfectly displayed. As as I bravely walk in vulnerability, owning brokenness and rejoicing over healing tears I am slowly unraveling what I how I used to define strength to how God defines strength.
I am learning that following Jesus isn’t about being good enough, living a moral life or how well we can clean ourselves up on the outside. The gospel turns that all upside down and inside out. Following Jesus is about how broken we are and how willing we are to let Jesus shine through the broken places. There are many instances where I am still the insecure, guarded girl in the front seat of the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan. God isn’t completely finished with me yet, but he is working on me every so slowly. Philippians says, and I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:6).
God never did call us to church planting. In God’s good and perfect plan God has continued to make me wrestle in waters in which I feel uncomfortable and not quite strong enough to swim. Just a year and a half after church planting assessment my husband was called to be the lead pastor in an already established church. A role in which I feel inadequate and unequipped for but now that I have unraveled in the gospel I know I can be content in my weaknesses because I am willing to let Christ shine through my broken places. I am enough because Jesus makes me enough.
“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”
C.S Lewis, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader