Not Disappointed Part 1
A few years ago I had the privilege of spending five days at a hotel near the airport on the outskirts of Atlanta with a group of pastors and leaders from around the US in an intensive training workshop called “ReFocusing.” A good friend who was part of the ReFocusing team invited me to attend a workshop they were hosting on their home turf. I was in a season of significant transition (seems like I’m always in a season of significant transition!) and it was so very timely for me to be in that intense environment! I spent most of those five days at a round table with four other leaders from very diverse backgrounds. Along with the other five tables of five ministers in the hotel meeting room, we represented a broad spectrum of the Christian church in America.
As is true with most well-presented seminars, there were lots of charts and slides for the screen and there were notebooks with “fill-in-the-blanks” spaces. We received many hours of solid teaching about very practical steps and actions we as leaders could take and also lead our churches in to “Re-Focus” our lives and ministries on the specific mission and calling God has for us. As I said, it was a very timely and appropriate week for me and an experience for which I’ll always be grateful.
I spent hours on those five days listening and learning, speaking and sharing with men and women in Christian leadership with whom I hadn’t thought I had much “common ground”. But as we talked and listened, as we learned more about each other and about our respective faith journeys, it was clear that we had the common ground of faith in Jesus Christ, of a sense of God’s specific calling to serve, and of commitment to God’s Kingdom work in our generation.
I came away from that experience more focused on my specific calling and purpose. But I was also more accepting and respectful of others whose background and doctrinal framework and ministry focus is a little or a lot different from mine. I came away determined to be more diligent at seeking common ground with those with whom I serve, and with those I want to help.
But there was much more to the week than lectures and slides and charts; more than talking and listening at the tables; there was even more than the very enjoyable lunches together at nearby restaurants.
On the next to last day of our workshop, the Refocusing team prepared us for and led us into an activity called “Developing Your Personal Identity Statement.” This was not about fine-tuning and focusing your ministry, not about learning how to do your ministry job better, not about filling in the gaps in your ministry training, but about becoming clear on your identity as a person. It was not about what you do, but solely about who you are.
After a morning of instruction and discussion, we were sent out of the room on our own for 90 minutes to connect with God and with our inner selves and write a simple statement of identity. And we were firmly instructed “Don’t come back without your Personal Identity Statement!” So the pressure was on!
I should make it clear that attending this workshop this was a God-provided gift that impacted a significant season of change and a larger process that was going on in me. Much had changed in my life in the previous few months. A ministry season and task that I loved very much and felt I was actually good at had come to an end. I was in my mid-60’s and I was thinking about the first half and second half of my life. I was thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.
A good friend back home in Bend had recently introduced me to the teaching and writing of Fr. Brennan Manning. I’d read his well-known book “Ragamuffin Gospel”, and soon (this is a story in itself) found myself devouring his latest book, Abba’s Child. This was a pivotal season in my life and the writings of Brennan Manning on relationship with God as Father and the teaching of Fr. Richard Rohr on transitioning between the First and Second Half of Life had become something of a pathway through the wilderness for me.
It was a beautiful Atlanta Autumn day and I decided to do my personal identity discovery walking around the perimeter of the hotel complex. The hotel was in a wooded area and apart from the roar of planes taking off and landing at ATL, it was almost like one of my daily walks in the woods here in Central Oregon. By the way, I think better, more clearly, and more creatively, and I generally pray better when I’m walking outdoors. Especially if there’s no one around to think I’m an old crazy guy talking to myself!
The pressure was on! By the time the hour and a half was finished, I had to have a Personal Identity Statement! I had to develop the statement, write it down, and be prepared to reveal my God-given unique and personal identity to that group of men and women I’d been talking with and listening to for the past five days. I needed to know who I am!
My process was pretty much my usual approach to listening for God’s message to me: I reviewed what had been happening in the seminar, what I was processing in terms of things that were happening in my life, things I was hopeful or anxious about. As usual, I tried to frame my thoughts and concerns into questions to ask God, then when I’d expressed myself as clearly as I could, I walked and waited and listened. All this in the context of knowing that I had to have a Personal Identity Statement and be able to share it with my table and the clock was ticking.
Somewhere in that process, the inaudible but unmistakable Voice whispered these words: “I’m God’s beloved child and he is not disappointed in me.” Such a sense of joy and acceptance flooded over me! At some point in the days yet ahead of me I realized that those words were the essence of what I had been reading and hearing and trying to grasp for several months, that God is not only my Dear Lord, God is my Loving Father! And that God’s love for me is not based in my performance, in fulfilling his expectations of me, but it is entirely based in his Fatherhood, in his unconditional acceptance of me for who I am!
Friends, it’s been more than ten years since that afternoon when my identity became “God’s beloved child in whom he is not disappointed”! Over the years, I realize that truth more often, I get to that point more quickly, and I am gradually able to hold on to the reality of that identity for longer at a time. I’ve still got a long way to go to live the fullness of that God-given identity. But I’ve got the rest of my life to get there!
My identity, my truest identity, is found solely in a relationship with the God who created me, loved me, gave himself for my redemption, and wants nothing more for me than that I live in the light of his love and let his love flow through me to others.
Whether you’re at the stage of your journey I’m at now or the stage I was at that Autumn day in Atlanta, or even if you’re at a different place in your journey altogether, here are some things I want for you:
- I want you to be on a journey of faith. I want you to be learning and growing and changing and dissatisfied with “settling.”
- I want you to have a Personal Identity Statement of some sort that is not about what you do or have done or hope to do, but about who you are in relationship to a loving Father God.
- I want you to never fear the truth. I want you to ask questions, have deep conversations with God and others, use your imagination, listen for the whispers of “The Voice.”
And I want you to read this blog post thoughtfully and then I want you not to miss my post next week “Not Disappointed Part 2”. I couldn’t put all I want to say in this post, so please don’t miss the rest of it!
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.