as a matter of fact, most things are out of your control. we work hard to manipulate the environment and set goals and work the system and do everything in our power to make things turn out the way we want them to turn out…but in the end, sometimes things just don’t turn out the way we planned.
and we are either better for it, or we succumb to the tragedy of loss. we either let our theology shape us…or let the situation shape our theology. or maybe a little of both.
twenty-five years ago, i was convinced i was exactly where god wanted me to be. although there were unknowns all around, i was content and deeply fulfilled living out my dream as a youth pastor in huntington beach. i was confident, but challenged. the work i was doing had meaning and purpose greater than anything i could have imagined.
i was surrounded by amazing friends. i lived in one of the most beautiful and picturesque places on earth. i was respected and valued by leaders and had the age and experience to continue to do youth ministry right there for the rest of my life.
for me, there was nothing greater than the thought of living out the rest of my days loving and serving with this same church family. it was my heart’s desire. it was the promise i made to god.
and then everything changed.
during my 30-plus years of teaching youth ministry to young men and women, one of the most important pieces of advice i ever gave was to help them understand that youth pastors didn’t call the shots. youth pastors were always subject to the vision and decisions of the leadership they served under.
twenty-five years ago, i had to take my own advice. the leadership of my own church hired a new senior pastor and it became clear from the moment i met him, that we were extremely different. i knew, almost immediately, that we were on different pages. his way of “doing church” and my way of “doing church” couldn’t have been more opposite.
but i had to respect the vision and decision of the leaders. they were convinced he was who god wanted to come and lead our church family. and for the record, he has done a great job of leading my old church family for the past twenty-five years.
but all it did was break my heart. even though i tried for two years, i knew i no longer fit with the direction of where they were heading. so i took my own advice and we packed up and moved on. those were some of the saddest and most difficult days of my life.
now here’s what i learned: we’ve gone on to have an amazing past twenty-three years…the last eighteen here in the sovereign state. it’s hard to imagine that ministry and friendship and opportunities and family life could have been any better. god has more than cared for us and met every need that we have had.
some would even say, that this was god’s plan all along. that everything happened for a reason and god’s mysterious will was played out perfectly in our lives. but that theology is not the one that has shaped and sustained me all of these years.
nope. my understanding will appear far less profound. i embrace the belief that bad things happen. that dreams can be crushed and disappointment always lurks around the corner. sometimes things just don’t work out the way we want.
but god never leaves. he never turns his back. his promise to hold us and sustain us and provide for our most pressing needs will never be neglected.
did i lose my dream in huntington beach, because it was all part of god’s master plan to get me to where the deer and the antelope play? i’ll never really know. theologically, i seriously doubt it. but really… it doesn’t much matter to me, either.
god always kept his promises. and he always will. and that’s really all that matters.