In January, I began a season of ministry without a parish. I said no to more doing, more serving in exchange for something, well, more. I left the local church where I served as senior minister not because of a conflict, not because I thought I was underpaid, and not because a better job came along. I left because God invited me to wake up.
Spiritual seeker and teacher Anthony De Mello writes in his book Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality that spirituality quite simply means waking up.
“Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep,” De Mello says. “They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing we call the human existence.
I’m sure we all know such living sleepers. They stay in abusive marriages, they toil along in unfulfilling careers, they allow life to happen to them rather than to live it. And I was one of them.
Last fall I realized I was drowsing through my relationship with the church I led. I was going through the motions, but more as if in a dream than in waking life. Things had to change even though it meant saying a painful goodbye to the traditional life of service I’d always thought lay before me. When I left my parish post after Christmas Eve services, some hailed me a brave saint; others thought I’d lost my mind.
Waking up is painful. When we say yes to the new movement of God in our lives, sometimes this means leaving behind what we simply cannot do without—our securities and treasures, and even our clergy robes.
And staying awake may be equally painful. We must no longer listen to discouraging voices, even if they were once our closest mentors. Sometimes it might mean saying no to friends who take far more than they’re willing to give. And sometimes it means taking a pay cut as we try to discern a new vision for our vocation. De Mellow understands the loss that can accompany wakefulness, and the subsequent longing to close our eyes again. We want to return to the way things were. We ask God to give back our money, reputation, or success.
Yet, as we awake, and remain awake, we find gifts. We find joy in our labor. We relish life’s movements between productivity, rest, and play, rather than feeling guilty about not working all the time. We have space in our hearts and minds to engage someone else’s story, not just our own. We find courage from our maker to stand up against injustice and challenge corrupt authority. We are awake to our own lives!
Every time I meet someone who refuses to sleep through life, I’m inspired to wake up just a little bit more—to take another risk as this season of sabbatical tarries on.
And, in the end, isn’t this what finding God in life is all about anyway?
Images: Elizabeth Evans Hagan. Available from: http://elizabethhagan.com/
Trần, Hải. Waking Up in the Past. Available from: Flickr Commons.