Let me backtrack just a bit.
One would think 2020 might have been the year of my undoing.
There was the pandemic and all of the ways it uprooted life for all of us and, as church leaders, challenged everything we knew about how to carry out Christian ministry effectively. We made adjustments and did the best we could. We canceled in-person gatherings, did a lot of things online, and asked people to love and protect each other.
There was also our national reckoning with racial injustice in 2020. The deaths of Amhaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd forced us to talk. It didn’t go that well. We didn’t fully reckon with racism by any means. We still have a long way to go and a lot of fragilities to overcome. Pastors who dared to challenge the status quo when it comes to white evangelicalism’s complicity in racial injustice waded through controversy and conflict.
And 2020 (leading all the way up to January 6, 2021) also exposed a severe double standard for evangelicals and our involvement in politics. We overwhelmingly justified, defended, or minimized all kinds of behaviors while looking for a militant strongman to protect us from our perceived persecutors despite Jesus showing us an entirely different way to flip the tables of an unjust and immoral culture.
2020 was the year the question marks in my head became so pronounced. Is this really who we are? Have we been studying Jesus for two thousand years and still can’t seem to take his strongest teachings seriously when they are an affront to our own privilege, power, and comfort? What else have I received in the way of tradition that might not actually line up with God’s view of the world?
Then, 2021 was an even better candidate to be the year of my undoing.
We left vocational ministry, resigning from the church to which we’d given a decade of our lives and had watched grow from a couple of families around a dining room table to a thriving body with a building and a positive influence in the community.
And that’s when I felt a little lost – not in the evangelical sense of the word, but in the desperate search for an identity outside of vocational ministry. I’d coached other pastors to define themselves in terms of their relationships with themselves, God, and others as fellow humans trying to embody love like Jesus and not by modern, professional ministry standards.
It was great advice! And then there I was, needing to understand my own identity.
We had stepped aside out of emotional and spiritual exhaustion, but relief certainly wasn’t instant. What lay before us that we couldn’t see at the time was a valley filled with more questions, pain, and at times a seemingly helpless groping for clearer direction.
So why, with all that transpired for everyone in our culture over those couple of years, do I say that 2022 would prove to be my undoing?
In our western, modern culture, we’re productivity-oriented. We want to know what we can do, produce, and get done. We add. We do. Then we add more, do more, and add more to do.
We rarely subtract. Subtraction isn’t normally used as a measurement of growth for us.
For many of us, the most important question we can answer isn’t what should I be doing? It’s what should I UNdo?
What should I eliminate? What should I UNlearn? From which habits do I need to be UNshackled? How can I get UNstrapped from wrong priorities and unhealthy relationships?
2022, for me, was a year of UNdoing. I dropped some weight. I cut off my beard (but kept the mustache). I stopped some really problematic thinking patterns. I kicked some harmful habits. I took a big, extended break from consuming news and social media (but I still check in on my world).
And spiritually, I gave up the pursuit of absolute certainty about everything, which has perhaps made the most profound difference of all. I became comfortable with having questions for which I didn’t possess answers and stopped incessantly digging for explanations for everything.
I re-launched Preaching for Change, continued classes at the University of Arkansas to finish a long-delayed degree in Communications, and started doing website design and creative marketing for nonprofits.
Writing, creating, and helping people think about how to both disrupt and influence people and culture in positive ways – as Jesus did – have led me into a sweet spot when it comes to my gifts and passion.
Now, with the valley behind us and the top of the crest beneath our feet, my vision of life ahead is flooded with light and love again.
What I needed most was clarity, but it didn’t come from any demanding quest for answers to all of life’s difficult questions. It came from allowing the fog to lift and seeing that God’s purposes for me and the people around me – my wife and kids, family, friends, clients, etc. – are more important than what I produce or achieve.
In clarity, gratitude flows more freely, and I’m more convinced than ever that gratitude might just be the most powerful internal force within any of us.
As for 2023… I want more undoing! And I don’t just want it for myself. I want it for everyone around me, too.
A few days ago, during a time of listening prayer, I became convinced that to turn inward any further would be poor stewardship of the healing I’ve experienced and of the wisdom I believe I have to offer to others.
So through my writing, coaching, podcasting, emailing, creative design work, etc. I’m going to keep helping anyone I possibly can to experience a life of freedom. An unstrapped life, if you will.
Here’s a question to ponder: How does 2023 need to be a year of UNdoing for you?