Trapped or Free
Are you feeling trapped? I suppose I could ask this of anybody in any kind of situation. Of course, I will add my disclaimer that there are some situations people find themselves in which they have no choice. They are indeed trapped and cannot escape. What I am addressing here is something different. And I guess I'm asking this particularly of pastors: Do you feel trapped? Let me tell you a story... Lisa and I met in a pentecostal bible college. We got married in 1980, moved to Boston for me to attend seminary. After I graduated we entered the Presbyterian church. Long story short, I was ordained in 1987 and started pastoring three Presbyterian churches in Atlantic Canada. I was, as some of my friends said, a strange mixture of reformed theology and charismatic experience. I tried and tried to inject some passionate, experiential type of worship and community life into the Presbyterian churches I pastored, but it was a long, arduous and painstaking process. I now question my attitude and the way I approached things back then. The gist is that over the five years I was in my first charge I experienced an intense frustration with the glacial progress of my intentions for the churches. This lead to a deep feeling of thirst and longing for a passionate spirituality once again in my own personal and communal life. Then, in 1993 I accepted an invitation by the Presbyterian Church in Canada to plant a church in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. They had done surveys and felt that there was the potential to have a Presbyterian church in that area. I accepted the invitation. I went with excitement, vision and hope. I could go into this virgin territory and start a new church with a clean slate and build the kind of church that I wanted. We moved there and started gathering people. At first I was thrilled. But it wasn't even a few months into it when I realized that it had fallen into the same rut I had been in for years before. One reason was that this new church plant attracted some lapsed Presbyterians in the area that were patiently waiting for a Presbyterian church to come, and they arrived with all their traditional Presbyterian expectations. Another reason is that the gravitational pull of any church is towards organization, stagnation and death, including this brand new baby church! I started having to deal with complaints about the music, the style of teaching, the money, the building, the people, the leaders... you name it. Overnight, it seemed, I had become a manager of bitter and difficult church-goers. But this happened to me and this church so quickly that I was overcome with despair. I started to even more seriously question my call as a pastor. I started looking around for options. But I had none. I started thinking about the possibility of becoming a full-time artist. But that was dreaming. What would I do for my family in the meantime? I read back in my journals from those days and they are full of questions, doubts, struggles, and depression. It stretched Lisa to the max and our marriage even further. What was I to do? I couldn't think of anything! I remember one night going to bed early and lying there by myself in the dark. I started weeping. The tears rolled down my cheeks. I wasn't just unhappy. I was filled to the brim with a raw and hopeless despair I had never felt before. I could actually taste the bitter iron of sorrow on my tongue. I didn't know what to do. I didn't have any options. I was completely and hopelessly destined to fill out the rest of my sad days slaving in a job I hated with people I couldn't stand and a church I couldn't stomach. I had no other choice but to finally admit: I was trapped. That night I had a dream. This was all the dream was: I was like the prodigal son, returning from bondage to his home. And I heard the words, "It's time!". That was it. I woke up at 5 a.m. filled with a joy like I'd never experienced before. I woke Lisa up and told her what happened. It was unbelievable. I was laughing! I woke up realizing that I wasn't trapped at all. I was a free man! I didn't have to do anything. And it wasn't just a cognitive thing. I felt free. What incredible happiness filled my mind and heart. I knew, immediately, that I was free and was free to leave. It didn't matter. I wasn't worried. Like the prodigal son, I could stay where I was and be satisfied with the bitter but secure food of my slavery, or I could leave all this and go. Just go! I told Lisa that I felt we should just quit. Why allow my comfortable salary with annual increases, my pension, my benefits, my position, to keep us enslaved? Why? Let's just leave! Let's just quit and see what happens! Do we trust God or not? We are free! Let's act like it! Over the next couple of months we went through the whole process of telling our elders and the congregation, selling off our stuff and putting the rest in storage, and endlessly trying to explain our insanity to all those around us. No one understood. But we didn't care! We were free. We didn't have to remain enslaved. So we eventually packed up what we had left into our van and our utility trailer, buckled in our three young children, and drove away. We had never been happier. We had never been filled with more excitement or a sense of adventure. I dare say that the many months that followed were the most thrilling months of our lives. And I would do it all over again if it meant freedom for me and my family. Perhaps you are feeling trapped where you are. Sometimes all it takes is the revelation that you are actually free. Sometimes it takes a revelatory peek into the reality of your situation to realize that you are actually not trapped. Sometimes the seduction of our securities is so powerful that it makes us think we are without options. Sometimes, when our securities and comforts are exposed as illusory, temporary and sometimes even as snares, we can free ourselves of them. This experience taught me that. It taught me that I am a free man, no matter what situation I find myself in. It is an incredibly liberating truth to know. It may not mean leaving the situation but living as a free person within it. But sometimes it may very well mean leaving the land of your slavery behind you and moving on to new and promised land that is waiting for you.