When my friend Tina Osterhouse sent me this guest post, she had no idea how timely it would be for me personally. These are important, good words—perhaps ones you or someone you know need today, too.
I used to work in a prayer ministry that helped people with sexual brokenness. It was a nine month discipleship program that had three components: worship, teaching, and healing prayer in small groups. I absolutely loved it. It was drenched in God from beginning to end and wove my particular gifts together in way that made it one of the most satisfying ministry times in my life.
When I moved to Chile four years ago, I missed everything about that ministry – the friendships, the opportunity to teach on subjects dear to my heart, and I missed praying for people week in and week out.
Last fall, when I’d been home from Chile for several months, I was lost in the trenches of life. I’d come home alone, choosing to finally leave my marriage, was living with friends, and helping my children adjust to a life where they wouldn’t see their dad every evening.
My friend Jeff called and asked if I’d be willing to step back into leadership for this prayer ministry. Someone had been diagnosed with caner and he wondered if I’d lead a group.
“You’re sure you want me?” I asked. “I’m going through a divorce. I’m kind of a mess right now.”
“I’m sure. This is a minstry for the hurting.”
I agreed to pray about it, but was sure this was my opportunity to get back into ministry.
A day or so went by and everytime I prayed about it, I had this convincing certainty that I was not supposed to do it. “I can muster up the strength,” I told God. And the very thought of having to muster up the strength, made me bone tired. Which if we’re being completely honest, was my huge boulder problem. I was tired. On every level. I’d moved to Chile three years before with this monstrous faith that God was going to use me and that the time had finally come to be overseas, a life-time dream. Instead, my marriage fell apart in a big heap, I lost all my confidence in myself and God, and ended up walking through the darkest season of my life which kind of came to a crashing finale when I finally threw in the towel. I decided to move home and stop trying to fix people who didn’t want to be fixed – immediate family included.
So there I was, absolutely certain I wasn’t supposed to lead this small group. I called Jeff and decided to see who else he could ask to lead. We talked for about twenty minutes and every name I gave him of people who were qualified as leaders were not able to to do it. I was the ONLY one left. He was desperate. I told him I’d pray some more. I must have heard God wrong. He would be my strength.
After praying some more, I was more certain that ever I was not supposed to lead this group. The very thought of going to a ministry on Wednesday nights made me shudder. Every ounce of my strength was used to take care of my kids and do life, but as a woman who’d been in vocational ministry, who loved God, who loved his people, who loved prayer, and who had an ever so slight hang-up with people pleasing … this was not easy to muddle through.
And then it came to me, this was a season about self-care. I was putting the oxygen mask on my own face first and if I led that group, it would be like me taking the mask off and putting it on someone else – and I’d die because I wouldn’t be able to breathe, and what what good would my leadership be if I were dead? So, I called Jeff again, and praise God, didn’t have to talk to him. I left him a very spiritual message about how God was not releasing me to do this and blah blah blah and then I made dinner for my kids. I wondered how in the world God would ever provide Jeff with a leader. What was Jeff going to do? How would he ever cope without me?
A few days later, I called Jeff to find out if he’d had to shut the ministry down because I couldn’t lead the group. I was prepared to apologize profusely and give him a long list of why’s, but Jeff answered the phone, quite chipper. “Oh, I totally get it,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. God provided. I called down to the group in Tacoma and there was a woman who was happy to take on the group.”
I got off the phone, stunned. And took a walk. My bruised ego stung with the realization that God didn’t need me after all, which I should really know by now. He’d raise up rocks to praise him, if we weren’t willing to do it, but I’d always told God I WAS willing. So, the realization that when I said no, he’d find someone else … was difficult because one of my main fears is being left out of something good.
After a while, I figured out the whole thing was about God’s love for me. It wasn’t that he didn’t want or need me in his great work, it was that he knew I needed to rest. “You’ll get back out there,” I heard him whisper. “But you don’t have to right now. You get to be hidden and safe, out of sight for a while, and I’ll bring you food and sustenance and restore your soul.”
This was lovely, because I clearly needed a bit of soul restoration. It’s always revealing when we think the measure of our worth is what we do for God. I was off kilter and searching for someone to need me. But God’s good LOVE is never about duty and demand and performance. It’s always about rest and wholeness and significance.
Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.