However, there is also another voice. That voice cries out to me: you are not just what you do. You are more than that. You have an identity that goes beyond what you can accomplish. You have a title that is not linked with or related to 'Senior Pastor'. You are a son. An heir, yes, but sonship goes beyond possessions. John said it like this, "See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children, and we really are!" 1John 3:1
The greatest benefit of being a son or daughter of God is not inheritance or status or title...it's in a relationship with my Dad (God) that comes from being his child.
But this is a direct contradiction to something I've inherently believed (though never spoke) for a long time.
You see, I've been working since I was 13 years old. I asked my Dad to help me make some flyers and my shop teacher let me print a bunch of them on the mimeograph machine (remember those?!), and I distributed them via my bike around the neighborhood. People called and I grew my first customer base. I'd pull my lawn mower behind my bike, holding it with one hand and the weedeater in the other (yes, I steered with no hands). Sometimes I'd have to ride a good distance. But I worked hard, produced a good product, and then I got rewarded (paid). I was affirmed (thanked). People would say to my parents, "That's a really good boy you have there...He works hard and does good work." The link was implied: being 'good' (your value) is directly tied to the quantity and quality of your work.
I learned that value comes from results.
I probably learned that before I was 13, now that I think about it. As a little kid - even as early as 5 - I was entertaining people. I emcee'd school events, got lead roles in plays and joined local theater groups. I learned to dance and sing, speak, act, and perform.
And I was good at it. I stood out and was noticed. When I was 9, my Mom enrolled me in a modeling agency. We had a professional portfolio done, and I had work almost immediately. I did commercials, print ads, labels for products, catalogs. Around 8th grade, I landed a 'kid' role in a soap opera, got special permission from the school administration to miss more than 30 days of school. I was on the set, filming once per week. I couldn't yet drive, but I was making $45 an hour! And I was getting fan mail (it was all snail mail back then) from people all over the world.
I got elected president of the student government association. Principals were writing letters making wild predictions about my future (which included being the president and being a preacher, by the way).
I applied for early admission (I left high school a year early) to one of the most prestigious theater schools in the world (which was and still is VCU). At that time, out of literally thousands of applications, they only accepted a couple hundred students each year. I remember sitting in the interview with the dean. He was asking me boring questions and wasn't even paying attention to my boring answers. But when I started rattling off my professional resume - which was extensive for anyone, especially a 17 year old - he sat up straight, grabbed a pen, and gave me his full attention. I would be granted acceptance to his department based on my past performance.
Affirmation upon affirmation piled up on me. It was all around me. It felt good. It was intoxicating.
But there was a downside. It led to a core (and flawed) belief system. Namely:
Your intrinsic value is found in what you do.
This long Sabbatical is helping me to see (and know by experience) that this is not really true. Listen to what Lance Witt says,
We're often eager to listen to the voices that say, "Prove yourself, do something important, succeed, achieve" rather than God's voice, which whispers, "Rest in me; I am your shepherd. You don't have to prove anything. You are not an employee, you are my child."
But let's be honest. With all the pressure to succeed, even in ministry, it's hard to hear and really believe God's voice. For many of us, our activity is synonymous with our identity. It's how we convince ourselves we have value. To feel better about ourselves we work harder and longer and become prisoners of our own illusions...
The question is,...Can we listen to the voice of our Father who calls us his child?*
The point of Sabbatical is to not produce. To not work - at least not normal work. Yes, I'm reading and doing some study and writing, but I'm not really producing. (even writing that sentence is an effort to prove that I'm doing something!) At first, it was great and fun. But I feel an increasing sense of guilt and a little shame. That voice says, "Shouldn't you be doing?" "Are you becoming lazy?" "What do other people think?" And the worst one, "You aren't worth much if you don't get some results. Make something happen."
This is a good thing going on inside of my soul. I think God is breaking through three or more decades of a broken value system that was built layer upon layer. I think God is saying, "You are my son. I am your Dad. Does what you do matter? Of course. But it's not the only thing that matters. And it's not the most important thing. You are so much more than that. Because whether what you do is good or not, productive or not, feels good to you or not...whether other people like it or not - none of that changes your core identity. I'm your Dad. You are a son of the King. Your intrinsic value was given to you before you ever did anything and is far more important than everything you've ever done or will do in the future. Your value doesn't change based on anything you do or produce, any hill you climb or goal you achieve or battle you conquer."
I wouldn't have discovered this flaw in me with a 30 day break. I've been on Sabbatical for over 60 days, and I'm just now starting to reach down deep enough to see it...feel it. And this is one of those times when I know the pain is a good thing.
*Replenish, by Lance Witt. p. 110-111