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Prologue: Autobiography of an epidemic
It’s a Sunday night, 10:00 p.m. Head up against the glass of an Uber, too tired to even sit up straight. I taught six times today—yes, six. The church I pastor just added another gathering. That’s what you do, right? Make room for people? I made it until about talk number four; I don’t remember anything after that. I’m well beyond tired—emotionally, mentally, even spiritually.
When we first went to six, I called up this megachurch pastor in California who’d been doing six for a while.
“How do you do it?” I asked.
“Easy,” he said. “It’s just like running a marathon once a week.”
Wait...isn’t a marathon really hard?
I take up long-distance running.
He has an affair and drops out of church.
That does not bode well for my future.
Home now, late dinner. Can’t sleep; that dead-tired-but-wired feeling. Crack open a beer. On the couch, watching an obscure kung fu movie nobody’s ever heard of. Chinese, with subtitles. Keanu Reeves is the bad guy. Love Keanu. I sigh; lately, I’m ending most nights this way, on the couch, long after the family has gone to bed. Never been remotely into kung fu before; it makes me nervous. Is this the harbinger of mental illness on the horizon?
“It all started when he got obsessed with indie marital arts movies...”
But the thing is, I feel like a ghost. Half alive, half dead. More numb than anything else; flat, one dimensional. Emotionally I live with an undercurrent of a nonstop anxiety that rarely goes away, and a tinge of sadness, but mostly I just feel blaaah, spiritually... empty. It’s like my soul is hollow.
My life is so fast. And I like fast. I’m type A. Driven. A get-crap-done kind of guy. But we’re well past that now. I work six days a week, early to late, and it’s still not enough time to get it all done. Worse, I feel hurried. Like I’m tearing through each day, so busy with life that I’m missing out on the moment. And what is life but a series of moments?
Anybody? I can’t be the only one...
Monday morning. Up early. In a hurry to get to the office. Always in a hurry. Another day of meetings. I freaking hate meetings. I’m introverted and creative, and like most millennials I get bored way too easily. Me in a lot of meetings is a terrible idea for all involved. But our church grew really fast, and that’s part of the trouble. I hesitate to say this because, trust me, if anything, it’s embarrassing: we grew by over a thousand people a year for seven years straight. I thought this was what I wanted. I mean, a fast-growing church is every pastor’s dream. But some lessons are best learned the hard way: turns out, I don’t actually want to be the CEO/executive director of a nonprofit/HR expert/strategy guru/leader of leaders of leaders, etc.
I got into this thing to teach the way of Jesus.
Is this the way of Jesus?
Speaking of Jesus, I have this terrifying thought lurking at the back of my mind. This nagging question of conscience that won’t go away.
Who am I becoming?
I just hit thirty (level three!), so I have a little time under my belt. Enough to chart a trajectory to plot the character arc of my life a few decades down the road.
Envision myself at forty. Fifty. Sixty.
It’s not pretty.
I see a man who is “successful,” but by all the wrong metrics: church size, book sales, speaking invites, social stats, etc., and the new American dream—your own Wikipedia page. In spite of all my talk about Jesus, I see a man who is emotionally unhealthy and spiritually shallow. I’m still in my marriage, but it’s duty, not delight. My kids want nothing to do with the church; she was the mistress of choice for dad, an illicit lover I ran to, to hide from the pain of my wound. I’m basically who I am today but older and worse: stressed out, on edge, quick to snap at the people I love most, unhappy, preaching a way of life that sounds better than it actually is.
Oh, and always in a hurry.
Why am I in such a rush to become somebody I don’t even like?
It hits me like a freight train: in America you can be a success as a pastor and a failure as an apprentice of Jesus; you can gain a church and lose your soul.
I don’t want this to be my life...
Fast-forward three months: flying home from London. Spent the week learning from my charismatic Anglican friends about life in the Spirit; it’s like a whole other dimension to reality that I’ve been missing out on. But with each mile east, I’m flying back to a life I dread.
The night before we left, this guy Ken prayed for me in his posh English accent; he had a word for me about coming to a fork in the road. One road was paved and led to a city with lights. Another was a dirt road into a forest; it led into the dark, into the unknown. I’m to take the unpaved road.
I have absolutely no idea what it means. But it means something, I know. As he said it, I felt my soul tremor under God. But what is God saying to me?
Catching up on email; planes are good for that. I’m behind, as usual. Bad news again; a number of staff are upset with me. I’m starting to question the whole megachurch thing. Not so much the size of a church but the way of doing church. Is this really it? A bunch of people coming to listen to a talk and then going back to their overbusy lives? But my questions come off angry and arrogant. I’m so emotionally unhealthy, I’m just leaking chemical waste over our poor staff.
What’s that leadership axiom?
“As go the leaders, so goes the church.”
Dang, I sure hope our church doesn’t end up like me.
Sitting in aisle seat 21C, musing over how to answer another tense email, a virgin thought comes to the surface of my mind. Maybe it’s the thin atmosphere of thirty thousand feet, but I don’t think so. This thought has been trying to break out for months, if not years, but I’ve not let it. It’s too dangerous. Too much of a threat to the status quo. But the time has come for it to be uncaged, let loose in the wild.
Here it is: What if I changed my life?
Another three months and a thousand hard conversations later, dragging every pastor and mentor and friend and family member into the vortex of the most important decision I’ve ever made, I’m sitting in an elder meeting. Dinner is over. It’s just me and our core leaders. This is the moment. From here on, my autobiography will fall into the “before” or “after” category.
I say it: “I resign.”
Well, not resign per se. I’m not quitting. We’re a multisite church. (As if one church isn’t more than enough for a guy like me to lead.) Our largest church is in the suburbs; I’ve spent the last ten years of my life there, but my heart’s always been in the city. All the way back to high school, I remember driving my ’77 Volkswagen Bus up and down Twenty-Third Street and dreaming of church planting downtown. Our church in the city is smaller. Much smaller. On way harder ground; urban Portland is a secular wonderland—all the cards are against you down here. But that’s where I feel the gravity of the Spirit weighing on me to touch down.
So not resign, more like demote myself. I want to lead one church at a time. Novel concept, right? My dream is to slow down, simplify my life around abiding. Walk to work. I want to reset the metrics for success, I say. I want to focus more on who I am becoming in apprenticeship to Jesus. Can I do that?
They say yes.
(Most likely they are thinking, Finally.)
People will talk; they always do: He couldn’t hack it (true). Wasn’t smart enough (not true). Wasn’t tough enough (okay, mostly true). Or here’s one I will get for months: He’s turning his back on God’s call on his life. Wasting his gift in obscurity. Farewell.
Let them talk; I have new metrics now.
I end my ten-year run at the church. My family and I take a sabbatical. It’s a sheer act of grace. I spend the first half comatose, but slowly I wake back up to my soul. I come back to a much smaller church. We move into the city; I walk to work. I start therapy. One word: wow. Turns out, I need a lot of it. I focus on emotional health. Work fewer hours. Date my wife. Play Star Wars Legos with my kids. (It’s for them, really.) Practice Sabbath. Detox from Netflix. Start reading fiction for the first time since high school. Walk the dog before bed. You know, live.
Sounds great, right? Utopian even? Hardly. I feel more like a drug addict coming off meth. Who am I without the mega? A queue of people who want to meet with me? A late-night email flurry? A life of speed isn’t easy to walk away from. But in time, I detox. Feel my soul open up. There are no fireworks in the sky. Change is slow, gradual, and intermittent; three steps forward, a step or two back. Some days I nail it; others, I slip back into hurry. But for the first time in years, I’m moving toward maturity, one inch at a time. Becoming more like Jesus. And more like my best self.
Even better: I feel God again.
I feel my own soul.
I’m on the unpaved road with no clue where it leads, but that’s okay. I honestly value who I’m becoming over where I end up. And for the first time in years, I’m smiling at the horizon.
My Uber ride home to binge-watch Keanu Reeves was five years and as many lifetimes ago. So much has changed since then. This little book was born out of my short and mostly uneventful autobiography, my journey from a life of hurry to a life of, well, something else.
In a way, I’m the worst person to write about hurry. I’m the guy angling at the stoplight for the lane with two cars instead of three; the guy bragging about being the “first to the office, last to go home”; the fast-walking, fast-talking, chronic-multitasking speed addict (to clarify, not that kind of speed addict). Or at least I was. Not anymore. I found an off-ramp from that life. So maybe I’m the best person to write a book on hurry? You decide.
I don’t know your story. The odds are, you aren’t a former megachurch pastor who burned out and had a mid-life crisis at thirty-three. It’s more likely you’re a college student at USD or a twentysomething urbanite in Chicago or a full-time mom in Melbourne or a middle-aged insurance broker in Minnesota. Getting started in life or just trying to keep going.
The Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han ends his book The Burnout Society with a haunting observation of most people in the Western world: “They are too alive to die, and too dead to live.”
That was me to the proverbial T.
Is it you? Even a little?
We all have our own story of trying to stay sane in the day and age of iPhones and Wi-Fi and the twenty-four-hour news cycle and urbanization and ten-lane freeways with soul-crushing traffic and nonstop noise and a frenetic ninety-miles-per-hour life of go, go, go...
Think of this book like you and me meeting up for a cup of Portland coffee (my favorite is a good Kenyan from Heart Coffee on Twelfth) and me downloading everything I’ve learned over the last few years about how to navigate the treacherous waters of what French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky calls the “hypermodern” world.
But honestly: everything I have to offer you, I’m stealing from the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, my rabbi, and so much more.
My favorite invitation of Jesus comes to us via Matthew’s gospel:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Do you feel “weary”?
What about “burdened”?
Anybody feel a bone-deep tiredness not just in your mind or body but in your soul?
If so, you’re not alone.
Jesus invites all of us to take up the “easy” yoke. He has—on offer to all—an easy way to shoulder the weight of life with his triumvirate of love, joy, and peace. As Eugene Peterson translated Jesus’s iconic line: “to live freely and lightly.”
What if the secret to a happy life—and it is a secret, an open one but a secret nonetheless; how else do so few people know it?—what if the secret isn’t “out there” but much closer to home? What if all you had to do was slow down long enough for the merry-go-round blur of life to come into focus?
What if the secret to the life we crave is actually easy?
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