It was an odd feeling that first Christmas.
No Christmas Eve service to plan.
No candles to go pick up at the store.
No bulletins to fold.
No songs to prepare.
No Christmas program practice for the kids.
No extra gift-giving to think about for the church board members.
No women’s ministry activities.
No nursing home visits.
Just an empty calendar and 7 hurting faces staring back at me.
It’s weird- when you’re “in it,” all those things easily become energy-draining activities and sources of conflict and contention in the relationships you care about most. Then, like everything else when it’s taken away outside of your control, it’s those things that stand out the most and you struggle to find the meaning without the mayhem of church holiday season time.
Whether you’re experiencing Christmas after voluntarily resigning or after forced-termination or another circumstance that causes you to no longer be in ministry, it’s important to know a few things.
I want to share 5 of those with you today.
1) You are definitely not alone!
I walked into the church and realized no one around me knew how much my heart hurt. The pain was physical and it felt as though I might collapse right there in the narthex. (I never liked that word anyway. It would be appropriate to collapse in one uncontrollably.) Like a knife in my very heart, it suddenly struck me that hundreds of people had probably come through the doors of the various churches I’d served at in this very much pain also, and I’d never even known. I had never known such deep pain before, but many other people had. They dealt with abuse, being abandoned by their spouse, a terminal diagnosis…and I walked by them blissfully and blindedly thinking only of the worship music set or the baby at my hip that needed changed. I’d been so blind all those years to the pain of those around me, absorbed in my own world…I’d left them feeling just as lost in church as I felt at that very moment. Feeling lost in church is common. Too common. So if you feel alone this Christmas in the very place you should feel most loved, please know, you are not alone.
2) God loves you just as much (even when you aren’t leading the church.)
My grip had been tight. I didn’t know it, of course, and I never would have admitted that I was caught up in performance over dependence. But I was. It was in the stripping away of my tight-gripped identity of “doing,” that I’d lost sight of the fact that God never wanted that from me anyway. He never loved me for what I could do for Him. Although I wouldn’t have admitted that’s what I believed, the depth of my loss and attempts to grasp for meaning in the absence of these things, demonstrated my absolute belief that my doing was what God needed from me most. The depth of this lie covers our fearful question, “Will you love me even if I never “do” anything in a church for you again?” The answer is a resounding “YES!”
3) God loves your family more than you.
Oh, sweet mama heart. The pain of your heart no doubt aches more for your children than for yourself. You wonder if they’ll walk away from God because of this. You wonder if they’ll become angry or bitter or resentful towards the Church. You struggle to reconcile how Christians can treat other Christians this way and how they could dare treat your babies this way-after all, they’re just kids. But, sin is deep. Deception is Satan’s playground. And God is bigger than all of it. He promises to work ALL THINGS for the good of those who love HIm. God has your children in the front of His mind, too. He isn’t done with their story. And He isn’t done with yours.
4) This loss is grief - ride the waves.
Death must come before a resurrection; but death is loss and we were made to grieve. We weren’t made for this world so it’s no wonder we inwardly revolt at this sin-filled place. In order to get through grief, you must be willing to ride the waves. It will come in the least expected moments. Maybe in seeing a candle in the window of a new church you try to visit. Or in the flash-back as you watch other children in a Christmas program. Or in the song chosen for the worship service. The grief may well knock you off your feet – or, like me, cause you to leave as discreetly as possible out a side door where you bawl angry and sad tears mixed with moans of deep pain right there on the sidewalk outside this new church building. It’s okay – you probably won’t stay at this one anyway. (And now, like you may have dreamed some Sundays in your previous life, it’s perfectly okay to visit a different church the next Sunday. Or not visit any at all for awhile.) No one will remember you were that crazy lady outside their church 2 weeks before Christmas…
5) Christmas was never about all that fuss anyway - and it can be a gift to traverse Christmas without it all this year.
The truth of baby Jesus entering the world in the underside of a stranger’s home. No fanfare, just some sheep and cattle and a lot of animal waste…this was our first Christmas. The owner of the home didn’t know the power of the child, fresh from the womb. The neighbors and other travelers didn’t know…the vendor of fish didn’t know…the temple priests didn’t know…Jesus Christ, God with us, didn’t come for fanfare (yet), He came to serve. He came to comfort. He came to heal. And He will meet you in this place, this very Christmas, without all the fanfare you have been used to filling your time with as well. He will meet your heart. He will meet your husband’s heart. He will meet your children’s hearts.
God is for you. He can be trusted without your Christmas performance. He never wanted it anyway.
He just wants you.