Every six months or so, I realize something that astounds me. In fact, you probably ought to be sitting down. But after a Master’s Degree and over half a century of experience, I’ve had a new revelation.
I am, indeed, quite stupid.
Seriously, there are so many things I should have realized earlier but remained so clueless about. That’s okay, but the question is: Will I finally learn from it, or will I be like a broken washing machine and keep “repeating the cycle?”
Hindsight is 20/20, they say. Sometimes I wish it were a little more hazy. I’ve worked lots of jobs through the years, many times serving in churches. Though I never did anything illegal, I did behave in ways early on I’m not too proud of. And I often seemed to get caught in the same cycle at new jobs.
Here’s how my tenure would usually work.
Honeymoon period – I’d arrive and be thrilled to have this new position. I’d work hard to please, willing to put in any amount of hours, and do most anything to please people. I’d humble-brag that I considered no task beneath me as a servant of God. Just like Jesus, I was willing to get my hands dirty and do the heavy-lifting required.
Golden Boy period – At about the three-month mark, my boss realized what a talented and hard-working guy I am. He would give me accolades in front of the staff and often the congregation. I was riding high, and everyone figured hiring me was a bargain, no matter what I was paid.
Spoiled Brat period – As time wore on, all the compliments and “attaboys” started to lose their magic for me. The minor irritations of my job begin to appear major. Where before, no task was beneath me, now absolutely everything is beneath me. This church is “lucky to have me, but doesn’t appreciate me enough.” Right?
And my boss? He was clueless and was wasting our shot at being a more successful business. Surely his leadership was holding me back!
Rebellious Teen period – This is the point when all those frustrations built to the bubbling point. And when it all bubbled over, I left. Or I guess you could say I “ran away from home.” I’d pack up my bells and whistles and head for the next place, where no doubt they would finally appreciate me for all I was worth.
And there, I would inevitably repeat the same cycle.
It was tricky to discern this pattern because I was truly mistreated in a few places where I served. There was one church where their theology stunk so bad I had to leave or feel like I needed a shower every Sunday after church. But these outliers muddied the water and made it harder for me to recognize the endless Groundhog Day scenario I was trapped in.
Just like Bill Murray trapped in Punxsutawney, PA, I was doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, at job after job.
That is, until I finally woke up and decided to change some things.
My epiphany would usually come about a year after I’d left the position. It took that long for my anger and pride over leaving to subside. This was when I would look back clear-eyed at the situation and actually begin to see how arrogant I’d been.
I’d see how my ministry had occasionally been “all about me” and not other people. Oh sure, I’d done things to help others, but I did it to make me look good or feel good. I’d see how I expected people to be happy that I had simply shown up.
I thought I should be allowed to do anything I wanted, whether or not it fit the boss’s vision for the church. I was smart, and I was talented. So they’d be smart to listen to me and do everything my way.
As outrageous as this sounds, I usually didn’t notice it until long after I’d left.
Occasionally, I’d realized I’d left a pretty good place, though I’d never admitted it. But since I’d burned my bridges with most of those people, there was no going back. Instead of moving on graciously, my ministry was a series of broken relationships where I forever felt unwelcomed.
I hadn’t done anything disgraceful. I’d simply been a jerk. And big surprise here: no one wants to be around a jerk, no matter how smart, talented or funny he is.
Another surprising thing was I noticed how all these churches managed to get along after I left. I mean, seriously, can you believe it?
Instead of pining away for me like a jilted school girl, they hired new ministers they seemed perfectly happy with. Somehow, people were able to muddle through without me. What a cruel realization, after believing for so long the world turned on my axis!
I wish I could apologize to some of those bosses whose lives I had made miserable. Actually, I have apologized to a few. Some have been gracious and pretended not to know what I was talking about.
The good news is, I believe that, like Bill Murray, I have learned the hard way from repeating the same lesson over and over again. God is a stubborn teacher. He will make you repeat the class a million times if that’s what it takes.
Frankly, he’s brutal. He will put us through a merciless amount of pain to save us from ourselves. But he knows the worst thing he could do to us is leave us the way we are. That would be the cruelest fate of all.
I have three grown kids who are Millennials now, and it often appears their generation are experts at what I’ve described. Sometimes, I see them going through the same learning process I went through. They think the world owes them something. How soon they’ll learn the world will turn just fine without them. God can get his work done with or without their glorious gifts.
None of us are really irreplaceable here. With God, we are all on a “mercy date” – we’re the ugly boy whose voice is changing but who somehow snagged the prettiest girl for the prom.
As I watch them go through the same cycles I did, I want to call out to them this word of warning:
You can learn the hard way or the easy way. But learn quickly, for your own sake. Because eventually, you’ll get too old to keep repeating the first grade, and you will have missed your opportunity.
It’s up to you how long you spend repeating Groundhog Day. When you’ve finally had enough, God will happily lead you out of Punxsutawney…
…but how long you live there is up to you.
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures