After five years of subsistence living, trying to plant a church, I'd had enough. The five years before this experience, we had experienced God's sufficiency, even though many days were like manna in the wilderness—God's provision was just enough. Just enough resources. Just enough encouragement. Just enough hope. But after five years of church planting, I couldn't do it anymore. I was empty. I knew the church deserved more than my burned out heart could give. I also knew my family deserved more. With the blessing of my wife and children, I resigned with nowhere to go.
It was a season of lostness, but it also revealed ways that God enters our darkness.
The footprints disappeared
I had never been there before. Throughout my life, following Jesus had been a challenge not because of his direction, but because of my willingness. This time however, it was his direction (or the lack of it), that was the problem. It was like I woke up one morning and the footprints I had been following disappeared. I had no idea where to go or what to do.
I prayed. I fasted. I looked for jobs. I read the Scriptures. I did everything I knew to do. Nothing worked. Then I stopped doing everything I knew to do. That didn't work either. I could not gain traction to move forward. I felt lost and felt all of the emotions that come with being lost. I was afraid, lonely, angry, and confused.
I landed a job working as a Bereavement Coordinator with a local hospice agency. It was the perfect job that I did not want. It was perfect because I was going through my own loss and was able to relate to grieving people on some level. No, I had not lost a spouse, but I had lost my job, a career, a church family, my call, and a web of friendships. I remember feeling a heavy sadness whenever I would think of the church plant. That church had been my dream and now it was gone. I remember crying on my drive to work on several occasions because of my disappointment. Very little about this season of life was anything I wanted.
Perhaps the greater despair I felt during this time was God's silence. I felt like I was pursuing an ever-elusive lover. This pursuit of God reminded me of the guy who finally found the woman of his dreams. His heart was smitten with her beauty. He did everything to woo her to himself only to find that she spurned his every effort. Regardless of his attempts to win her heart, she refused him. Why was God aloof? After all, I had left everything to plant a church and what did I end up with? Nothing. And now God was keeping me at a distance?
Had I sinned in an awful way? Had I disqualified myself as a pastor? Had he decided to bench me because of a significant character flaw? I prayed the confessions of Psalm 139 many times. If I had missed something, I wanted to know it.
Seth Barnes described such a season of his own life in his book, Kingdom Journeys. He found himself in a similar situation after starting a new ministry, describing it as a "dark phase."
Somewhere in that desperate place, I cried out to God. All I seemed to get in response was silence. It confirmed what I'd always suspected, but was only coming to believe: we Christians could advertise a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" until we were blue in the face, but whatever relationship I had with God was decidedly impersonal. What kind of friend doesn't respond when you call on them?