My birthday was Sunday and for the first time I decided to give myself a gift. Not merely a present but, rather, a gift that will last the whole year. I decided to give myself the gift of “ME” – me first (okay, me second – but only after Jesus).
I can hear the gasps and the shaking of some of your heads, “How selfish,” you’re saying. “The Church always comes first. She’s the Bride of Christ. You’ve been charged with taking care of Her, taking care of Her people. You’ve taken vows. We always have to put the Church first….”
Others of you are saying, “My family always comes first.” And some of you others are saying the same thing but with an additional qualifier: “We need to put our family first” – are you ready for it? – “even before God!” And now I can hear still more of you gasping, “Even before GOD!?!?!?!?!?” Yes, I’ve heard it said many times before, often by ministers who’ve come to equate “The Church,” or their “Call” or “call,” with God: “family first, even before God.”
So here are a couple of myths I want to get cleared up today.
First, The Church does not equal God. I learned that the hard way with the help of a great therapist who would interrupt my weekly kvetching-monologue that always contained my desire to have God “smite” members in the congregation I was serving (it was a long time ago so spare yourself from trying to guess whether or not you were one of them). “Kris,’ he would ask at some point during each session, “what is it that ‘The Church’ is made of?” And I would find myself reluctantly mumbling the obvious answer, “people” (which still didn’t keep me from that desire to have God smite them, a key indicator, by the way, that it was time for me to move on out of that pastorate). Too many of us have by decision or design ranked our ministry assignments as Priority Number One, collapsing God into The Church or, worse yet, making The Church our God. We’ve forsaken all others for the sake of the affair we’re having with our work. Or, perhaps, you’re like I was: you’re sacrificing your children on the altar of Church.
The second myth? Our family (however you define “your family”) should be Priority Number One. One of my first mentors tried to teach me that. Actually, he taught me that and it took quite a few years to learn otherwise. To go back to the first point, God and Jesus have to be our first priority. We’re nothing without Them. Quite literally the whole of our existence rests in Their Hands. If you’ve no desire to follow and serve Jesus first, to avail yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through you, to delight in the will and ways of our Creators: either take a sabbatical or walk away from ministry now before you do any more harm.
Oh, sorry … I’ve moved into sermonizing…. Heading back on track now….
So if God is first and our family is neither priority one nor two, who is? Here’s the myth buster in one word: YOU. We – you and me – have to prioritize ourselves before anyone else. Think about it. When we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re no good to anyone. Not to our family. Not to those we lead and serve with. When we don’t take care of ourselves, our ability to care for or about anyone else is seriously jeopardized. When we don’t take care of ourselves, ourselves breakdown and our ability to do what Jesus needs us to do is seriously compromised. Putting ourselves next after The Almighty Two we serve through the Power of the Holy Spirit is far from selfish: it both provides and preserves a life to live rather than a life that’s living us.
The birthday wish I made as I blew out the candle on my cupcake this year? At the risk of it not coming true, I’ll let you in on the secret. I wished that I will have the courage and the fortitude and the presence of mind to remember and make ME Priority Number One, to stop saying yes to the requests and desires and responsibilities of others so that I’m no longer distracted from being and bringing as much of ME as possible to my own requests, desires, and responsibilities.
Ask me again in a year, but for now I’m thinking it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. I’ll let you know then….