You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

The Rolling Stones sang the song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Image from flickr.

Life’s hard isn’t it?  At some point we’ve all had to come to terms with the fact that we aren’t going to get what we want.  The thing that we won’t get can be as mundane as a new camera or as meaningful as a new job, a spouse, or a child.  Sometimes, even with the most important things, we have to face the reality that we can’t always get what we want.

What I’ve found is that in these moments of dealing with our inability to get that which we want, something profound can happen.  We are forced to let go of the hopes and dreams we had surrounding this thing and figure out if we can keep living without it.  Usually that process draws us much closer to God.

This happened to me about five years ago.  I was working at a church in Boston, but I knew that it would soon be time to move on.  As I prepared to leave the job I had, I was eagerly awaiting news about another job that seemed a near certainty.  Then after I left the job in Boston, the job I expected to get fell through and I was left in the lurch.  I had miss timed my jump into this new ministry, and I was left without a job.

As this unfolded, my anxiety level escalated.  When I heard they didn’t want to hire me, I felt like a nobody, a loser.  I felt like I was without an identity.  The pain I felt at not having a job exposed just how much of my sense of self-worth and value was based on having a job in ministry.  I had to come face-to-face with the reality that I didn’t get what I wanted.

But in not getting what I wanted, I got something much better.  Because I didn’t have a ministry job for more than a year, I had to deal with my false sense of worth that was rooted in having a ministry job.  I had to deal with my false sense of identity that was tightly inter-woven with my vocation.  I had to deal with what equaled idol-worship of my vocation in ministry.

Not getting what I wanted was the best gift I could have gotten.  It forced me to deal with my issues.  I felt like I would cease to exist without this job.  Then, when I didn’t get it, and low and behold I continued to exist.  I was still a husband, a father, a son, and a child of God.  I remained a valuable human being created in the image of God and passionately loved by him.

Sometimes God’s gift to us is received in the void of the thing we most wanted.  The loss of these things can be tremendously painful — as it was for me — but through its absence we can learn to find our identity in God’s love for us not our possession of titles or things.  Now that I am in ministry I’m thankful for this lesson.  I can engage in ministry without needing it to validate my ego.  I can give to my church and those in it without that unhealthy co-dependency that happens when a pastor has his identity rooted in the success of his mission.  In the midst of my pain and the feeling of deep loss, the reality was God was with me.  He was giving me something much better than a job.  He was giving me freedom from my worship of vocation.  He was giving me an identity that is defined by his unwavering love for me, regardless of where I work.