It was on a Sunday morning in early spring 1978 that I made the mistake of my life. Ignorant of the consequences, it took but ten minutes to announce a decision that changed the course of my life.
I had been the pastor of Trinity Temple since its beginning in 1968. As the founding pastor, I had suffered through the early days when I never knew for sure whether this venture of faith would survive. 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.
On a chilly Sunday morning in March 1978, I submitted my letter of resignation. After ten years of ministry to Central Pennsylvania, I was leaving. It is now 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. Despite fierce opposition, I decided to return to Seminary and complete my education. There was nothing in the move, however, that made any sense to either my family or my congregation. And they were right.
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, of course, is 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.
The Bible says “all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” God is not so much interested in our happiness as he is in our maturity.
W. E. Maxwell, in his book, Failing Forward, writes that “no matter how difficult your problems were, the key to overcoming them doesn’t lie in changing your circumstances. It’s in changing yourself. That in itself is a process, and it begins with a desire to be teachable. If you’re willing to do that, then you’ll be able to handle failure. From this moment on, make a commitment to do whatever it takes to fail forward.” (p. 7).
Leaving Trinity Temple was truly the mistake of my life, the one decision over which I have often agonized. But when I look at where and who I am today, and I am encouraged. I am a different man, and my relationship with my family and with God is now stronger and more fulfilling than it has ever been. And I’m writing about it — to people just like you!
It is so easy to give advice after the fact. Don’t give up on yourself … mistakes are not irreversible … keep everything in perspective … you are a better person for the experience. But that was little help and no comfort when I was in the throes of guilt and despair. In time, however, I got back on track, renewed my commitment to Christ, and found that life was not over.
Give God an opportunity to reorder your life. Welcome his involvement. It is the one decision you will never regret.
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