Life was going as planned. And it was a good plan. Or so I thought.
I was about to get engaged. We had been dating for close to 2 years, and we discussed an engagement in the spring and a wedding in the late summer. We talked about saving up for a down payment on a house, and that 2 kids would seem like a good size family for us.
At church, we had just completed our move into a beautiful cathedral in our city. It was so much larger than our old building, and we had high hopes to reach more and more people with the love and transforming power of Jesus Christ.
And we had just finished plotting and planning a new restructure of our staff. With the help of our newest staff member, our executive team, and trusted church consultants, we had come up with what seemed like a smart, strategic plan for growth in our church.
Our Lead Pastors had gone on a much-deserved sabbatical, and in their absence, an associate and myself were leading our church and our staff team. It was hard work, but it was also so rewarding and exciting!
And so as Christmas season came around I found myself incredibly content and wonderfully comfortable. Everything seemed natural and unforced. My friendships seemed easy and comfortable. My family seemed easy and comfortable. My relationship with my boyfriend seemed easy and comfortable. Even ministry although never easy, was falling into its own sort of comfortable.
I should pause here to state the obvious: Hindsight is a wonderful and obnoxious gift. Wonderful because Hindsight allows us to see things with such precision and clarity, the kind of clarity that almost always leads to personal growth of some kind. And obnoxious because Hindsight seems to always end its conversation with an underhanded, “I told you so.” Hindsight reminds us that we aren’t as all knowing as we would like to think, and that none of us are beyond blind spots in our lives. Let’s put it this way, Hindsight is the kid in class who sat in the front row, did every extra credit assignment even though they already had a 4.0, and insisted on always being the first to raise their hand to answer the teacher’s questions. We all respected this student’s academic prowess, and we couldn’t deny that they were smarter than all the rest of us. But it didn’t mean we had to like them for it.
Hindsight, though an annoying know-it-all, is also a great tutor. And with the help of my overachieving friend, I am now able to see that easy and comfortable isn’t at all the best way to live. I mean really live. Living with ease and comfort as the goal of one’s life may seem like freedom from the stressful and scary, but in the end it is rather confining. A comfortable life is a trapped life. And no one ever lived comfortable who unequivocally changed the world.
I guess I lost sight of that for a minute. Life as planned wasn’t a bad life, but it wasn’t the life God had in store for me. I had fallen asleep to the deeper passions in my soul, to the unrelenting notion that what I was doing and experiencing wasn’t enough… that there was more of Jesus to know, more people to love, more risks to take, more life to live.
But I was about to be woken up, and rather abruptly…
“I’m sorry, but we have to break up. I can’t marry you.”
“The church finances aren’t what we had hoped they’d be at this point. We are going to have to do some layoffs, and you are going to need to lead those conversations.”
“I know I was going to lead the staff team with you, but I feel led to start my own church.”
“Sister, we have some news. We are moving across country.”
“Mom just got rushed to the hospital. She’s having trouble breathing.”
“Colie, your Dad’s in the hospital. They’re running tests, but can’t figure out what is going on.”
“Your father needs open heart surgery and he needs it soon.”
“I don’t know how to say this, but you owe quite a lot of money in taxes.”
Within a six week time period, my boyfriend broke up with me; I had to layoff a few of my friends; I lost my teammate and months of work on a restructure that no longer made sense; my sister told me she, my brother-in-law and my nephew were moving to New York; my mom was in and out of the hospital; my father was in the hospital for 2 weeks before discovering he needed heart surgery; and I had to pay a nice chunk of change to the IRS.
Let’s just say that life was no longer easy or comfortable. And more importantly, I had woken up.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. And that’s a good thing. A really good thing. A year and a half later, I can honestly say that not much about my life is easy or comfortable, but it’s one wild ride! I know Jesus more, I love people more, I take more risks, I have more hope, I live by more faith and I just enjoy life a lot more than I used to!
By many Christian standards that six-week period began the last year and a half of what could be described as a “pruning” season. In case you did not grow up in church or work at a vineyard, as is the case for me, let me fill you in. Pruning is what a vineyard worker does to a vine to ensure that it will produce more fruit in the future. Pruning is the cutting away of the old to make way for the new. It may feel painful to the vine at the time, but the pruning is done for the good of the vine. Without the pruning process, the vine would never be strong enough to bear the weight of larger fruit. It’s the pruning seasons of life that give us the resilience to bend and not break under the strain of greater fruit in the future. So, I guess one could say that if you want your life to produce greatness, than you better get used to pruning.
You could say I’ve been “pruned” which kind of sounds like being “punk’d” except Ashton Kutcher isn’t around, this isn’t pretend, and usually very few people will see it. So maybe it’s not all that much like, “punk’d” because I’d much rather be “punk’d” than “pruned”.
Whatever you want to call it, life has definitely changed for me over this past year and a half. I wish I could say that since that 6 week period, everything has fallen nicely back into place, that my life is now completely challenge free, thanks to Jesus, of course. That would be a lie. It has been painful, it has been scary, it has been interesting to say the least, and at times fairly awkward. It’s also been the greatest learning experience of my life. It’s one I wouldn’t change for anything. All the changes, the challenges, and the pruning moments have enrolled me in some sort of character development academy. I’m being schooled by the Holy Spirit, with every week a tutorial on who Jesus is and what really matters in life.
I will be the first to tell you that I really don’t know much. I’m still quite the novice at this thing called life. But I have been learning, and I’ve listed some of my discoveries below. My hope is that if you are experiencing some setbacks and challenges these findings can help you out, or at the very least encourage you. Please know that God may not be the cause of your pain, but He is the One who can turn that pain into your very own progress. Jesus is a Master at taking what seems like the very worst and using it to bring out the very best in us. And He’s faithful. He’s the One that began His work in you, and He’s the One that will finish it.
My very own light bulb moments (thanks to a good dose of pruning):
1. Jesus + nothing = everything. There is simply no greater ambition than to know Jesus and to become more like Him.
2. Authenticity of faith is a result of being completely honest with God. Go ahead and get real with God. It’s worth it. And believe me, He can handle it.
3. We need to be led by the Holy Spirit. No amount of talent, opportunity, or resource can replace hearing God’s voice.
4. God is more interested in character development than career advancement.
5. Gratitude is a magnet for miracles. Stay thankful.
6. It’s okay to fail. Really, it’ll be okay.
7. Don’t be so concerned about what people think. Just do you, boo.
8. Having a few true friends who’ve got your back is worth more than a million social media followers or likes.
9. Life is way too short to stay offended. No matter how deep the pain, the remedy is always forgiveness. Always.
10. Laugh often. Seriously, life is full of some pretty hilarious moments. Don’t let them go to waste.
11. Everyone is facing some kind of struggle. Cut people some slack. Give more grace.
12. Take the risks you know God is leading you to take. In the words of the great philosopher Nike, “Just Do It.”
13. When Jesus is doing the leading and I am doing the following, the future always looks bright. When it’s the other way around, let’s just say it’s no bueno.