It's been five years since we decided to simultaneously adopt three kids and become a family in ministry—five years of unrelenting pressure and refinement. Five years of uprooting, tilling, planting, and weeding kind of work. Strangely, it's become normal. Regular everyday life even. So the idea of hitting pause for a month-long sabbatical felt foreign, and though I was excited about it, I had no idea what to expect.
How was I suppose to make the most out of a sabbatical? How was I supposed to be intentional with my time when it seemed unwise to make a bunch of plans? Would I feel refreshed and renewed by the end of the month, or would I be hesitant to jump into ministry life again?
Uncertainty lingered as July approached, and the only thing I had was a sneaking suspicion that it was going to unfold differently than I could try to imagine.
And sure enough, it did.
If I were to try and summarize my sabbatical experience, I would describe it as a doing in the undoing—a process of simultaneous relief and pressure.
If you imagine what it's like to arrive home after a long, eventful road trip, it was a little bit like that.
You only want to relax and do nothing, but the luggage needs unpacking, the fridge needs stocking, and the laundry needs washing. In a sense, you're resting because you're home, but some things need attention if you want a full recovery. So, you do it.
Though, laundry seems always to throw you a surprise. Between the remnants of food you discover in the layers of clothes and the stains you didn't know were there, laundry quickly becomes what you drag your feet about. And just when you think it's done and you're in the clear, you discover a pile of wet clothes forgotten about in the corner, now covered in mildew. After debating whether or not to tackle it, since it's already been sitting there for days, you decide there's plenty of time to get to it later and walk away.
But that's the thing with laundry; it never gets washed just because there's time and opportunity. It only gets washed when we get our hands dirty with it.
My sabbatical was kind of like that. Tending to my overlooked and mildewed laundry instead of ignoring it----a process of unpacking the sin that surfaced in my heart.
A doing in the undoing.
The thing is, with matters of the heart, one doesn't always get to know what they're unpacking until it's all sorted. And for me, I didn't realize I was unpacking the assumption I knew where my heart was at.
See, it's pretty easy to convince yourself your heart is in a good place. To assume the motives of your heart are pure and peaceable when you hold them to the light of your intentions. But when you're defending your own heart to yourself or justifying it either in thought, word, or action, that is a pretty big indication its motives are not as humble as you want to believe they are. In fact, you can be sure deceit is growing there like mildew between the layers.
C.S. Lewis quotes, "True humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." So when I am at the center of my thought process and filtering my experiences through the lens of my benefit or disadvantage, I can be sure my heart is not as humble as my intentions want it to be. And when I'm defending it with a righteous tone, I can be sure my heart is deceived.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
Assumptive defenses are a red flag to a deceived heart—an indication of self-reliance. And deceived hearts go to great lengths to keep assumptions hidden and alive. Recognizing it is half the battle, but unpacking it is another whole story. Because working through the layers of mildew and deceit is about as personal as it gets.
An undoing of self.
I don't know about you, but I haven't met anyone that enjoys it.
Who wants to acknowledge their bitterness, envy, pride, or self-righteousness? Who wants to consider their self-preserving tendencies in the face of overwhelm, conflict, burnout, and hurt, as well as in the ease of success and happiness when life is going well? I don't enjoy it. It's an undoing that feels personal and costly, and it's so much easier to assume my heart motives are pure and peaceable. Or, at least, good.
But what about when I do acknowledge it and walk away? When I leave it for later, or chalk it up as finished simply because I noticed it's there? I can believe it's been taken care of all I want, but mildew doesn't vanish just because I look at it.
I can't expect to be renewed when I'm content to be deceived by my own heart. And I can't expect my heart to abide in God, who restores and replenishes it, when I'm leaving parts of it neglected in the corner to ferment.
Laundry doesn't get washed because there is time and opportunity. It gets washed when I get my hands dirty and when I surrender the process of peeling back every layer.
And that's the work of being undone—surrendering. Over and over through every layer until there's nothing left to uncover.
Surrendering to embrace what the Lord brings to the surface of my heart instead of ignoring it. Surrendering what I think is best and trusting he'll give me what I need. Surrendering my idea of renewal and seeking him instead. Surrendering what I know, feel, and think, and admitting they're broken. Surrendering that I'm a sinner in need of grace. And surrendering my understanding of my own heart and asking for his instead.
As I got my hands dirty with a work I wasn't expecting, God changed the parts of my heart that were seeking my ways and increased a desire for his. As he broke down my assumptions, he replaced them with questions and led me along the way.
God, what are you trying to show me?
God, what do you have for me to learn?
God, where is my heart far from you?
God, what am I not seeing that I need to see?
And he showed me. Because he knows my heart and understands it fully, he sees every nook and cranny and knows its motives and intentions. He knows what needs to be brought into the light of his saving grace and he knows where it's far from him. And he leads me on the journey back.
I could've ignored the pile of laundry and sought my idea of rest instead, and I probably would've walked away feeling refreshed to a degree, but a deceived heart gratified doesn't compare to a deceived heart renewed.
And renewal feels like a flame being fanned into a fire. It feels like breathing underwater after walking in the desert for years. It feels like sitting down to a feast or drinking from a well that doesn't run dry. It feels like love bubbling over and peace that ripples with joy.
Renewal is the doing God did in my being undone, and it feels like home.
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