Today marks the one year anniversary of First City being planted. As is typical with most anniversaries I’ve spent some time reflecting on where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and where I need to continue to grow.
Church planting isn’t the life I would have chosen for myself. Sometimes I still question whether this whole church-planting thing is just a fad, and I wonder if all the struggle it takes for me to be a part of a church plant my husband leads is really worth it. And yet, in the midst of that wrestle, I have come to believe with every fiber of my being: the church exists for mission and not comfort. It isn’t an abstract thing for us, we could give it up. We’ve done it before, and God took care of us. But for our family, at least right now, we know that God has called us into church planting.
We had so many blessings this first year. Our church is growing, people are being discipled, and by God’s grace, we are financially sustainable and were able to bring on more staff as well as give away money to other churches in our first year. These are tremendous blessings that are humbling. It was a very hard-fought journey to get us where we are, and sometimes we look back and then look at the present blessing and are like “what just happened?” But, in the midst of all this blessing, this church planting journey remains a battle.
Prior to planting a church, I thought my biggest fear in it all of this would be that we would potentially screw someone up or unintentionally hurt someone through our church. I would often daydream that we wouldn’t do something right and would end up on some church watchdog blog. Prior to debilitating OCD, my general motto was: if you can’t be assured you can do something perfectly, don’t do it. If watchdog blogs were the god of my life, I can assure you, I would not be church planting. By God’s grace, through OCD essentially destroying my life, I faced these fears and now struggle way less with fear of man and have a genuine confidence that Jesus, not me, makes the best Savior, and that God is sovereign and working restoration in people’s lives even through painful stories.
After all of that healing, I definitely wasn’t prepared for how my fear would surface this past year. Week after week there was something that pushed me way out of my comfort zone. I’m the first to admit, my struggles aren’t always “normal”. Most of our church planting friends are wondering if they will get paid next year or if more people will come. I worry obsessively if we are doing things “right” from a legal perspective (which unfortunately, due to my many work and educational experiences and my inquisitive nature, I know a bunch of random information that exasperates my extreme hyper-vigilance). I worry about what kind of sanitizer we use in kid’s ministry or if a someone is going to have an allergic reaction to the communion bread or go into anaphylactic shock because someone brought peanut butter to the church picnic. By the way, the communion bread thing actually happened on our very first Sunday, so I’ve been facing this fear head on since day one.
For me, struggling with OCD means struggling with hyper-vigilance, continually assessing the environment for danger, and constant mental problem solving. I’m experiencing all of this in a much deeper and exasperated way than ever before because my husband is ultimately responsible for all decisions. This has been extremely healthy for our marriage since I’m always asking a million questions about all of my husband’s or other people’s decisions to make sure people have thought through the details (read: sarcasm). The thoughts and questions that come to my mind are constant. I’m talking the exact definition of constant: never-ceasing, never stopping. It’s often triggered by a piece of information someone tells me about the church. This generally isn’t info I’m trying to seek out. I frequently tell myself, “stay out of it, this is not your responsibility.” But there is some strange way it always seems to find me. And so it is, almost every moment of every day, I have to make choices about these thoughts: is there real danger or is there wisdom in this question or is this OCD? It has been a battle all year long. And it’s rarely let up. It’s been extremely tiring. This combined with moving (which also triggered some aspects of my OCD) as well as some other personal things, I’m exhausted and sometimes I have difficulty seeing the joy and blessing in it all.
And so there I am at the end of year one. Blessings and struggles, tired and fighting for joy. I’ve thought a lot about this the past few weeks, and I’ve realized I have a few options at this point. First, I could avoid this struggle. For us, that would mean quitting. But if I learned anything in counseling, it would be that avoidance is a compulsion. Sure, you can live your life avoiding pain, but it rarely, if ever solves your problems. And if avoidance is solving your problems, you may not be truly living.
The second option is that I could ignore what I’m struggling with because it’s superficial or unimportant and continue to push through. I think this is largely what I have been doing. I can keep telling myself: Other people and church planters have way more difficult problems than fears of communion bread. My struggle isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, so it’s not urgent, and these fears and triggers I have are petty and not real. Sometimes I ignore them because my fears are typical of what all pastor’s wives and church planters deal with. But, I’m also learning that ignoring your feelings with the “I shouldn’t feel this way” lines we often throw at our sin is also a way to avoid the pain. Let’s face it, American Christians typically aren’t good with any kind of discomfort. We don’t like pain or anxiety, so we either avoid or we flippantly slap the “don’t be anxious” and “give it to God” lines on everything and then feel guilty all the time because we don’t even really know what that means.
My last option is to try to get more help again and to recognize that maybe my fears are superficial, but the intensity of this may not be normal. I often say that getting help for my OCD was the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s interesting to me that even though I believe that, I still want to do everything I can to stay out of counseling for OCD. Maybe it’s the stigma or the fact that I want to pretend I’m stronger than I am: that I now know enough to do it on my own. Maybe it’s the money: how I cringe when I think of how much we have already spent in therapy for me. Maybe it’s how uncomfortable I know counseling will be: how I’m at the point in overcoming OCD that I will probably have to do disgusting things like touch public toilet seats and not wash my hands or potentially “dangerous” things like doing some type of exposure therapy around our friends’ kids with extreme allergies and how extremely anxious and uncomfortable I will feel the entire time until my body finally acclimates. Maybe it’s that my new church will see how weak I really am: how I still remember how people looked at me before when I was really sick and how I felt like I had leprosy or something. Maybe it’s how humbling and shameful it felt when I was trying to do exposure therapy in kid’s ministry a couple of weeks ago with the new sanitizer and people walked in on me doing it and I was crying because it was so hard for me. Or that I will have to explain it to people, and they will look at me like I am crazy and they won’t understand. Maybe it’s that the help I have available to me now probably isn’t as good as the help I used to have available to me, and so I wonder if it will even be worth it.
There comes a point where you have to come to terms with the reality that your present pain isn’t sustainable or that it impacts others more than you want to admit and that even though healing will be very hard (and expensive or seemingly shameful or may not work) and probably even harder than the pain you feel right now, that walking by faith and freedom is worth it. There isn’t any shame in getting help. That’s a lie from the pit of hell to keep people scared, and therefore, immobilized. If you aren’t living your life in a way that beckons you to seek wise counsel every now and again, I wonder if you are really seeking to walk by faith.
And so reflecting on a year hard fought, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to continue on this journey, I need more help. And I’ve made some peace with all the “maybes” of that, and I’m going to get it. God works in mysterious ways. He brings people and circumstances together to accomplish his purposes. This process is hard, and it’s not going to end in this life. Some day, my faith will be made sight and I won’t live in a broken world. There won’t be hyper-vigilance or “if you see something, say something” signs in heaven except those directed toward Jesus. But now, between the already and not yet, walking by faith for me means acknowledging that I feel the way I do and that is both okay and not okay at the same time. Walking by faith means the paradoxical coexistence of reality and hope. It’s trusting that God meets me with grace exactly where I’m at, yet beckons me to turn my eyes from being distracted by my works to the glorious rest he offers in Jesus. He takes the “shoulds” and “should nots” of all of my feelings upon himself and offers me a greater peace- Himself. And in all of this struggle, I am learning to say: I count it all joy because I know more of Jesus. I would walk the scary road of these past years all over again because He’s truly worthy of a life lived by faith.