Seminary, Sabbatical & Stitching up the Pieces

Timely reminders of how God is rebuilding my life, and why I decided to go to Seminary.

cos incline 2
During our seminary cohort gathering, some of us took on The Incline. That’s me barely surviving the trek, thanks to them pulling me up. | Colorado Springs, CO

When I gave my life to follow Jesus two years ago, I looked inside myself to find that there was… emptiness.

This season, as I’ve begun to peel off the layers of my identity, I’ve come to see that I’ve lacked inside the substance and the character I once prided myself for. For so long, I’ve lived my life to please people and meet expectations. I’ve become good at portraying an image of accomplishment and doing good and strength and courage to leave a corporate job, yet inside I was anything but. There’s been a disconnect between who people thought I was, and the authentic self within. I depended so long on creating an image of myself, that I had neglected authenticity.

I was like an expanding balloon. It would only be a matter of time before I would self-implode from being unable to live up to the image I was portraying. And it resulted in a season filled with emotional meltdowns and relational breakdowns; a season filled with anxiety overload, and panic attacks. I was consumed with fighting the fears of exposure instead of building a strong core.

In the aftermath, I’ve been left wondering who I really am (btw, there is nothing quite like marriage that forces you to face up to who you really are). What do I really stand for? And how will I live the rest of this short life God has given me?

The Potter and the Clay (Lubos Houska, Public Domain)

During a time of devotion last year, I felt God prompting me to read Jeremiah 18. I turned my Bible to that chapter, and read this passage:

“But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make…Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand.”

I was in awe, as I realized that God was speaking to me through this timely word. Like the clay, I felt like the masterpiece I was trying to create with my life had proven futile. It was a hot mess. I held this passage close to my heart, believing that surely, He could rework the mired clay of my life into a new vessel!

Around that time, I also heard John Bevere teach a message on character. He taught that our lives are like tall buildings. Before it can be built upwards, they need to first be built deep into the ground. The taller the building the further down the foundation needed to go. For a period of time before you see any upward progress, the developers are preparing an underground foundation, which is necessary for the development of the building.

You can have the tallest building in the world, but without a deep, solid core foundation, it’s a matter of time before it’ll fall at the slightest knock. I saw how this was true for me. The image of success I had once built stood on a shaky core, lacking any conviction or sense of self. When life’s tests came, the building fell and crumbled into pieces in need of stitches.

Yet, God’s message was clear: as He was rebuilding my life, He was starting with the very parts of me I have grown numb to. The inner workings of who I am. The secret sins that had grieved the Spirit for the longest time. He is starting me over.

It was then that Jan encouraged me to prioritize immersing in the Word, to draw in its wisdom and make it the foundation on which I stand. The Word was something I thought I knew very well — I attended church my whole life, why wouldn’t I? But I couldn’t be more wrong about myself. I was like a sheep who does not recognize the shepherd’s voice.

She pointed me to an online global program at Fuller seminary called the Masters of Arts in Global Leadership, whose vision is to make character, leadership and missional growth a priority for leaders all over the world. I quickly found that it serves to especially address millennials like myself on how to live and lead in the world. How to stand for His word and to renew my mind daily in alignment with His word. To develop true strength and courage from the inside out, not from my accomplishments.

It sounded like a great program, ticking the right boxes for me. And it was met with great encouragement from my mentors as well. However we would not have the money to attend. At that time, we were barely scraping by, working as freelancers in one of the most expensive cities in the country — although very much loving our missional community in San Francisco.

Jan submitted a couple job applications that were all clearly out of her league. But they were high level positions that would allow me to enter a sabbatical season of seminary. To her credit, this was all going against her maternal instincts. And I remember how crushed she felt after a very tough interview, even though she already knew she was less than ‘qualified’. We sat down and decided to just make the decision for seminary regardless of our uncertain financial situation. The very next morning, she received the job offer!

As Henry T. Blackaby once wrote: “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” So good!

The job would take us across the globe to Madrid for a season. There’s nothing quite like being drawn outside of my comfort zone in America for a seminary season of sabbath, stilling and soul-refining.

Looking up from the bottom of The Incline, as we start our trek. | Colorado Springs, CO

As I reflect on this season, it’s hard to fully grasp the what, the how and the why. But what I am believing for is clear. In one of our first assignments in my first seminary course, I shared with my classmates that I find myself in this program at a time when I’ve never been more intent on finding who I am. And that I believe that the only way to understand myself is to press in deeper with knowing God — knowing His presence, knowing His voice, knowing His word, and knowing His promises. This program for me is a process of studying and understanding the Scriptures, so that I can develop a set of Biblical convictions that will guide the rest of my life. It’s a program of developing character, so that I can adhere to these convictions both in the public and especially the private. It’s a program of developing leadership and vision, so that the steps I take can reflect the very purpose He has instilled in me.

To be honest, a big part of me just wants to go do something out there, and be well-recognized as a doer. That’s what being a millennial is all about, right? I do get discouraged by the seemingly unending process of pride breaking happening inside me, or the secret sins and unresolved weights of my past that resurfaces. Oh, that sanctification process! Sometimes I just get blatantly impatient, and I just want to get to the part where the building gets built.

But I hold on to the thought that though I don’t see what’s going on inside, surely He knows what He’s doing.

During one of the program’s online discussions, a fellow classmate responded to my post about struggling to stay the course with a simple message, “Edward, It is obvious that you desire and are pursuing to find the purposes God has for your life and you remain open and moldable by the Spirit. As with any time we set out on a new endeavor, it is important to remember to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.”

It was a timely encouragement. And with it, I realized that sometimes we just have to stop getting so caught up in understanding where we are going or trying to comprehend everything God is doing. Or even rationalizing where this season is taking us.

Because that’s Faith. Letting Him take the wheel, and enjoying the ride.

Every so often we took in the view, as we made our way up. | Colorado Springs June 2016
Every so often we took in the view, as we made our way up. | Colorado Springs, CO