On a Sunday in early spring 1978, the exact date now mercifully forgotten, it took but ten minutes to announce a decision that changed the course of my life.
When my wife and I moved to central Pennsylvania to establish a new church we did so with high hopes and unbridled ambition. The dream, however, is always more exciting than reality, and there were many days when I didn’t know whether this venture of faith would survive. Or whether I would! Staff turnover, friends who came and went, financial stress, and the challenge of speaking three times a week had all left their toll. I was burned out, tired beyond belief, and ready to run.
At the conclusion of the morning worship service, I submitted my letter of resignation. After ten years of ministry, I was quitting … bowing out … finished! It is difficult to understand the thinking that went into that decision, but it seemed right at the time. And I am haunted by “what if?”
I devastated my family. My wife was becoming more involved in our church’s ministry and our daughter was approaching her last year of high school. Leaving my congregation speechless, and my family in an uproar, I decided to return to seminary and complete my education.
I share my story, for I am not alone in making a decision that turned out to have had catastrophic consequences. None of us is free from doing things we will always regret. The question isn’t whether we have erred; the question is, what have we done about it? The temptation is to recoil in self-pity, or perhaps, to blame others and play the martyr. It is only when we are honest enough to accept responsibility for our actions, however, that we will be able to reconstruct.
It is easy to put a positive spin on our journey through life after the fact. Don’t give up on yourself … mistakes are not irreversible … you are a better person for the experience. But all of that was of little help and no comfort when I was in the throes of guilt and despair.
Leaving active ministry was truly the mistake of my life, a decision that was without merit and counterproductive. My experience at Ashland Seminary was a disaster. My personality made me unpopular with both staff and students, and a four-year degree in Counseling was of little value for a counselor I am not. And I set in motion circumstances that following graduation left me isolated from my family and my peers.
But Erwin Lutzer is right on when he writes, “We assume God is unable to work in spite of our weaknesses, mistakes, and sins. We forget that God is a specialist; He is well able to work our failures into His plans (Lutzer, Failure: The Back Door to Success, p. 18).
When I look at where and who I am today, I am amazed. I would not want to relive the last thirty years of my life, but neither would I want to take them back. The trauma that followed my resignation from Trinity Temple was, if not part of God’s directive for my life, still to my benefit. They helped make me the man I am today. All things did, indeed, “work together for good.” I matured, my wife is back, and my relationship with God is now stronger and more fulfilling than it has ever been.
With a lifetime of experiences to share, I have now become a writer. And thanks to the benevolent grace of God, the next ten years promise to be the best years of my life, a living demonstration of this great truth: in God’s Kingdom, it’s never too late to be what you might have been. Praise the Lord!