I’d resolved to become holy, but it didn’t take long for the ordinary tasks of ministry to bury the light that entered me that day. And because I had no one to show me the way, I slipped back into a life that, while fruitful on many levels, left me increasingly dissatisfied. Over the course of the next decade and a half, ministry became subtly yet increasingly colorless and drab, sometimes downright dreary. Not entirely, of course. In fairness to the God who’d called me and to the people I served, there were enough bright spots to keep my heart in the work. But bright and lovely as these persons and experiences were, they still couldn’t mask the widening gap between who I was called by God to be and the life I was actually living.
When crisis finally came knocking that day late into the second decade of my ministry, I took a long, sober look at myself and saw a person who’d set out as a pastor but who along the way had become a manager—a fairly competent manager, but still a manager. I was able to write memos, lead meetings, organize events, raise money, supervise staff, and keep track of details. I was running a relatively successful church organization, teaching at a nearby seminary, writing, and consulting. In addition, I’d kept track of a remodeling project in our home, and was helping our teenage sons negotiate their path to adulthood. On top of this I also did what I could to provide the home environment that made it possible for my wife to teach fulltime while she took night classes to complete her credential in special education.
But all this just helped to mask the crisis within and assure me that for all intents and purposes people were pleased with my work, and that I was, by most measures, successful. I could have been quite pleased with myself but for the light that once had pierced me. What light remained would allow me no real pleasure in my status or achievements. It showed me that little I was doing really required God. And none of it needed a saint. I had become laughable, precisely the oxymoron I’d resolved not to become those many years before. I was stretched terribly thin—like too little butter spread over too much toast. And, while in many ways successful, I knew I was truly failing, not only in what God required of me but also in what my family, friends, and congregation truly needed. It became increasingly difficult for me to assure myself that the life I was living was the life the Light intended for me.
Desperate, I opened the door and embraced the light of God that lives inside the terror of every crisis. Fifteen years earlier I hadn’t known what to do with the light of God that pierced my heart and whispered to me of holiness. I hadn’t the foggiest idea then how to become a saint, and I didn’t know a soul who could show me how. A decade and half later I figured I at least knew where to look for a few great souls. And so, I determined to track them down . . . or die trying.