I’m attending the Simply Youth Ministry Conference here in Indianapolis this weekend. It’s a conference for youth workers, BY youth workers. I’m there for a number of reasons, one of which is to share with some of those I meet my passion for building more effective ways for ministry leaders to connect with the kids around them in a manner that’s founded on protective boundaries and consistent parental involvement. I have high hopes for making new friends and creating opportunities for followup following the conference, and know that I’ll also have the opportunity to learn a TON about my own ministry work to high schoolers in my home church.
Tonight wasn’t about that, though. Sure, I shared a bit about who I am and what I do, and met some interesting people I may reconnect with. Tonight I felt the urge to RELAX, to sit back simply BREATHE for the evening. That was reinforced by the first session I sat in, where the woman leading reminded us that we can’t feed others if our own souls are running on empty. So I took my own advice, along with hers. I sat back, made some friends, worshipped freely and loudly, and laughed more than I have in a long time during a late night with the Skit Guys.
What I want to really write about here, though, is the talk given by Greg Stier (@GregStier). Greg’s a pretty cool guy – several of the kids in our youth group love him. This is the first time I’ve listened to him speak in person, and I love his energy. The focus of the entire service was on prayer, and at one point he had us close our eyes, clench our fist, and sit in silence for a few moments. During that time we were to look into our hearts for that thing we just wouldn’t let go – sin, addiction, hurt, whatever – and give it to God. I had realized during this talk that I pray like a wuss quite often, and while I connected with my heart a little during that time, it wasn’t until the drive home that I felt I finally got in tune with God – like the Skit Guys said, I finally took the time to let Him say “all the things He wanted to talk about.”
It was during this time I put some words to what I have balled up in my fist. It’s something like a disbelief – or at least a lack of trust – that God means what He says when He says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” I may believe this intellectually, but I don’t live it… and tonight I learned a little more about that. I look around me – at my new business venture, my church life, my family life, and I see it over and over. I clench the reins, I keep a finger on the “maintain control” button because I figure if I really let go, I just might get left or forsaken… and I’ve ascribed that to my Heavenly Father as well.
Now the hard part… where it all comes from. You see, my dad left me, and in my heart’s understanding, forsook his family, 7 years ago. I’m not going to cast blame or declare how angry I am, because I’m not his judge. But I see what it’s done to me. My life wasn’t all put together before that time, and it didn’t fall to shambles directly because of that event, but that moment in my life triggered something. It not only left me feeling like my dad was leaving, but also felt like it invalidated everything up until that point – like it was all just a sham.
I still live with that. I remember calling my dad up on November 1, 2006, and leaving a voice-mail on his phone that I forgave him. I have never heard mention of this from him. Maybe he got it and didn’t know what to do with it. Maybe he never even heard it. The point wasn’t him at that time, it was me. I was letting go… somewhat, but not all the way. I know I didn’t completely do it because I’m still haunted by that phase of my life, by that feeling of abandonment, of being forsaken, and for some odd reason, for my own lack of worth or value because of it.
And so I take that feeling and ascribe it to my Heavenly Father. I don’t fully trust Him, because in the deep recesses of my heart, I feel that sometime He might pull out the rug. I don’t give my all to my wife, because I feel in the closed-off sections of my heart that she might one day give up or say she’s had it and is done. I fear rejection with clients because their verbal “pats on the back” keep my spirits high. I don’t go all out and sell because I have an inkling deep down inside that what I have to offer isn’t worthy. That >>I<< am not worthy.
That’s my clenched fist. It’s not anger. It’s not even unforgiveness to my dad. It’s lack of trust in my Big F Father. A fear that I won’t let go of. The situation that caused it could be anything, and I’m sure not going to cast all the blame on any person or situation here on earth. This is my life, and I take responsibility for it. The wounds of my past may well be the strengths of my future. I want to open that fist, uncurl those tightened fingers, and let the Lord in. I want healing. I want to know freedom. I CHOOSE to believe, because it’s true and because it’s been shown over and over again since and IN the creation of this world, that my God is Faithful, that He will never leave me, and that He will never, ever, EVER, forsake those who He holds in His hand.
This is no big “come to Jesus” moment for me. I think I’ve known about this clenched fist for some time now. Perhaps I’ve never really admitted it, though, I think I’ve said I’ve been loosening my grip when I really have really only been doing so as God and others pry my fingers back. I want to open that hand freely, to offer my pain and hurt and wounds to Him, to cast these cares upon Him, because he DOES care for me.
It has been good to be with the Lord today. I feel not only refreshed but also am in a new sense of anticipation about the doors God will open the rest of this weekend. Into new friendships, new understandings of the adolescant heart the hearts of those who lead them, and into a deeper walk with Jesus.
Oh… did I mention this one? My dad called me today. There was no real conversation – there is still an emptiness there – but I find it not at all coincidental that this happened, either.
And that’s Day One. Who knows if I’ll write more, but this certainly has been a welcome start to what should be an awesome weekend.