Learning to Let Go
by Shelly Esser
The phone rang. It was a devastated ministry wife wondering how she could go on now that her ministry dreams lay broken at her feet. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve received such a call and it won’t be the last. As she shared her painful story, I had a flashback to my own broken ministry dreams. From the time my husband entered seminary, I fantasized about how wonderful ministry life would be. Then the inevitable happened. Like the caller’s situation, it all came crashing down. A ministry life in rubble – shattered.
Like me all those years ago, this caller wanted to know how to start over – in a new church, with new people, with new dreams.
No Simple Solutions
There are no easy answers, and I mostly just listened and prayed for this wounded servant. But if we don’t deal head on with our disillusionment, we can become paralyzed with bitterness, allowing an underlying anger towards God to affect everything in our life. It’s important to admit the truth. When I did, I sensed God’s presence and strength in a way I never had before. Until then, I had not really grasped that He cared as much as He does. Most of us, feel guilty about even alluding to the idea of unmet expectations in ministry. To think that ministry would turn to disappointment appears contradictory, as though God were defeating His own purposes. Nonetheless, we need to, like David in the Psalms, fall into His lap of love and comfort, releasing our distress.
Hold Onto Ministry Loosely
Ministry has to be held onto loosely. We somehow think because we abandon ourselves to spiritual service that we have a right to hang on to it. But even with ministry, we must learn the art of relinquishment. Relinquishment is learning to surrender our plans, our dreams, our desires to God, and letting Him work things out in His way. It frees us to cooperate with God.
Over the years, I have had to relearn the art of relinquishment as new disappointments have come along. It has been hard – especially as I’ve had to walk in the dark. But, if we refuse to let go, God gently strips us of the things that interfere with His bigger plan. To advance in the Christian life, it is essential that we learn to let go. George Mueller spoke powerfully of this, “There was a day when I died, utterly died – died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will…and since then I have studied to show myself approved unto God.”
Encouragement from God’s Word
The biblical landscape is littered with men and women who let go of their expectations in exchange for a life of trust and faith. Joseph, who was given a specific dream, watched it go up in smoke. Instead, he was sold into slavery, ended up in prison, and journeyed for years with unmet expectations. Abraham was promised a son. Years went by and there was no son. The Apostle Paul’s ministry life included long stints in prison, of all places. Remarkably, these people, despite their unfulfilled expectations and dreams, continued to minister in the circumstances God ordained for them, and they continued to trust Him with what didn’t make sense at the time. The encouragement for us is that God uses the disappointments in our lives to press us forward in our faith. Those times of dashed dreams in ministry can lead us into deeper intimacy with Christ.
In the end, we were never intended to find our fulfillment in people, our circumstances, or ministries. We were intended to find fulfillment in God alone. There will always be disappointments and broken dreams. Thankfully, though, we can hold on to the truth in Hebrews 13:8 which says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He will never fail us. Even in the midst of our broken ministry dreams, we can start over, serving God with a deep joy and passion. It’s often in the letting go, in the loss of our dreams, that we gain our heart’s deepest longing and treasure: Christ Himself.