Two years ago President Jimmy Carter made a bold and very public statement by removing his membership to the Southern Baptist Church. For years he tried to encourage dialogue concerning what he saw as a “…repugnant..belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men” and went on to say that it only excuses “…slavery, violence, forced prostitution, and national laws that omit rape as a crime”. (Source: http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/07/20/jimmy-carter-leaves-church-over-treatment-of-women/) Jimmy Carter, in my opinion, took the proper steps. He prayed about the situation, and then opened dialogue with the Christian community over this issue. At some point he decided that the dialogue would go nowhere and so he stepped away. The question here is, at what point do you decide that dialogue fails and the right step is to step away?
The same can be said when trying to help someone with an issue they have. At what point do you have to make the decision that you have done all you can and now it is time to step away? In fact, this can be a struggle with many areas of our lives from relationships to a job. After so many attempts at trying, sometimes it just makes sense to step away.
Several years ago I was employed in the death-care industry. I was hired in to a management position because of my skills in team building and improving processes. I did what I was hired to do but continually encountered walls purposely put in my way to set me up to fail. A year of on-going conversations only yielded more walls. One day, after careful prayer and consideration, at 5:00 p.m. I left that job. I know I left it in good hands and that the staff would continue to move forward. I knew the families we worked with would not be affected. I knew it was the right thing to do – I simply stepped away.
Many years ago I found myself in an important turning point in my career in full-time church ministry. Seated in the front row of more than 5000 pastors from around the country, I listened as Andy Stanley said, “sometimes, to be effective in ministry, God needs you to step aside. But because of our own humanity we oftentimes refuse to see what we really need to do. That’s when God steps in and rips you out of ministry.” I know that I had to step aside and begin exploring a new calling in ministry in order for God to continue the work He started through me. I had to explore other options – step out of my comfort zone and search new ways of being in ministry. It was a painful journey but one that I am most pleased to have walked.
Jesus asked his disciples to wait for him and keep watch while he went a short distance away to pray. When Jesus was done he came back to find them asleep. How frustrating that must have felt. How lonely that must have made our Lord. He spent three years teaching, encouraging, training, and lifting up these men and they still didn’t get it. So what did Jesus do? He rebuked them. He said, “You mean to tell me you couldn’t wait just a little while?” He explained to them that things are going to happen around them if they continue with this behavior – he said, “Stay awake before you fall in to temptation”. He then simply stepped away – and returned to praying. Jesus, in this one act, teaches us the importance of correction and prayer.
We are only human and as such we have limitations. Our minds create an image of God only to the extent of our human understanding and our minds. Our minds can only take so much and our humanity only brings us so far. Our humanity is what keeps us from experiencing the Holy. Our humanity is what keeps us from growing in Christ. Our humanity is what keeps us from making the same bad choices, the same bad decisions as we did yesterday and probably will do tomorrow. Our humanity is what causes us to fall asleep when the Lord asks us to be awake and alert. Our humanity is what causes us to continually sin, that is, to continually grow the space between us and God.
Of all the characteristics of being human, which one(s) are the loudest in your life? Which one(s) keeps you from staying awake? Which one(s) keeps you a safe distance from the Holy? Which one(s) will you begin working on today before God decides to rip you away from them? Because when God does decide to tear you from it, you’ll probably go kicking and screaming all the way. Make the decision today that God is waiting for you to make. Change. We cannot grow if we do not change. Change equals growth. Growth equals a closer relationship to our Creator. A closer relationship with our Creator equals closer and more meaningful relationships with our fellow humans.
Having the courage and strength to step away can actually mean that you are stepping closer to the Holy and closer in to the person you are meant to become. Standing up for what your heart believes is truth will, indeed, bring you closer to the person you are meant to be. When we step away, in truth, we step closer to the Holy.