How To Face Anything (Pt. 2) Grieving loss in the ministry

A battlefield is at the bottom of a valley, where every body and every bone was parched.  There the man stood. It probably smelled, with a slight bitter taste in the dry air. Can you imagine? A skeleton at your feet. Someone’s father. Someone’s son. The man was looking over the end of a generation, a people who lost a fight, and promises that were left unclaimed. The shame in the loss, reeking of discouragement. I have an experience that feels the same, with parts of my heart still reaking from pain and discouragement of the loss.

Anytime I go to start something new the disappointment is a reality I have to break through. I feel like every time I go to start a connect group, invite new people to lunch, or write another blog post, I face the death of a dream. It is front and center. My dad’s church is gone. The doors to the four walls are closed. I mean technically the building probably now used by another company, but you get what I’m saying. It’s the kind of experience that used to keep me up at night, or that had me start preaching to myself as I put on my make up in the morning… searching for a solution or some sort of encouragement in the matter.

So much energy, so many prayers poured over this congregation. And now I don’t see them anywhere. Sometimes a Facebook memory will pop up, but it’s more of a skeleton than a memory. Someone that was once family, I remember great moments and advances in their lives. God did some magnificent things in that season. Some real battles were fought and some real victories were had. But this congregation doesn’t meet anymore and I miss the people, so I ache. Yet, believing that God is sovereign, I start again. Knowing God cares about everyone involved, more than I do, I start again. I make a plan for the connect group, create an email list, and set up coffee dates to make new friends, wondering if life long friendships will form, or someday I’ll be stabbed in the back again for giving my best even though I fall short.

I’ve cried myself to sleep too many times. I have walked into a number of coffee appointments, choosing to believe another chance at the dream is on the horizon. Yet, the discouragement is like a magnet with a strong invisible force that pulls me in the direction of silence and shame, and fear just locks it in, especially when I’m around people who weren’t there and only have heard pieces of the story. My story.

Recently, I faced this discouragement again. It was heavy and it was painful. I think I cried for an hour. I told God I don’t want to start something again, invest again, only to see it end. I told God I want to be apart of something that lives beyond me. I felt like I was fighting for something I believed was worth fighting for and then I lived long enough to see it evaporate. I invested in something that doesn’t exist anymore, and discouragement holds me back from sharing {all} my thoughts, giving {all} my efforts, and sharing {all} my dreams. This is what brokenness feels like. It’s like walking with a limp. My walk isn’t straight anymore, it takes stubborn faith to obey, because, well… death reaks. I have taken the time to grieve the loss of my father’s church and still the discouragement slows my run down. But I am truly thankful that “those who wait upon the Lord, will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31)

The discouragement has been thick for me these last two years, and I truly believe I am on the edge of a breakthrough, so I choose to be stubborn and keep pressing on. But it doesn’t mean some relationships and certain choices aren’t hard. Breaking habitual thinking is hard. After pouring out my heart to my husband and to God countless times, I remember the moment not even 16 weeks ago, when God spoke to me and breathed life to my soul. After that, I knew I could live to see the resurrection of a dream and even better, I could fight for it in prayer. A fresh energy was released into my spirit.

In that moment I was reminded of Ezekiel, the man whose experience became my source of life when facing a dead dream, non-existent relationships, leadership changes and personal failures. Ezekiel stood in a valley of dry bones, he recorded the experience in the bible, Ezekiel chapter 37. God asked him “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel doesn’t reply with a black and white answer. Which is great! Because discouragement and leadership aren’t that simple any ways. Ezekiel responds, “Only you know Lord!” I have found myself looking at my dreams of ministry and leadership and have said, “Only God knows!” It’s the only answer I have to the multiple questions that have come up in different conversations. I wonder how many other people respond to discouraging situations with “Only God knows!” like I do.

I think it’s a natural response and God doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. It’s a  response that, when we are right before God, we can position ourselves to hear from him clearly, and with divine grace, we can obey! Specifically in my case, dreaming again, investing in the ministry again, and leading with no guard up again. (Thick skin, soft heart, right?!) God never fails though. Being in right relationship with Him, makes our situations front and center to him as well. He cares about our lives, our people, and our responsibilities. Except I realized again that He has a different perspective.

In Ezekiel 37:7-9 it says, the breath of God came from the North, the South, the East, and the West to bring these dry bones to life. I believe that breath was the Holy Spirit himself, and as we are in right relationship with God, I believe our lives are at the center of God’s attention, and at the center of the activity of the Holy Spirit. This is a must read section in scripture for any discouraged leader in my opinion. Disjointed bones grew together and muscles formed. A soft tissue called a sinew formed, to hold these together. I see that the smallest details in my situation matter to God. He can bring structure and enthusiasm to the broken dreams and bleeding emotions I carry behind the scenes.

I noticed also, this breath of life came after Ezekiel obeyed. Ezekiel’s role in the matter was to listened to God and then to follow his instructions. Which in this case was to speak God’s word to the dry bones. I believe our role is the same in discouraging situations, and that is to speak life. When discouragement tries to settle in, fight it. Fight it with all of the energy you’ve got! Here’s how: Step One: Find encouragement from the Word of God. Step Two: Speak honest & encouraging words to those around you, specifically those you might be prone to vent to. (The reason this is helpful in discouraging situations, is that between steps one and two a heart change is required, otherwise we are lying. But let me be honest, this is NOT easy!) We have to have faith, release forgiveness, or face fear to encourage people around us or it’s fake, and I’m not a “fake it till you make it” person. I’m a person who walks by faith and not by sight or my feelings. The transaction that takes place between steps one and two creates an environment that the Holy Spirit can sweep into and carry. (1 Peter 5:7)

Now, am I free from all discouragement? No. Do I feel like a failure sometimes? Yes. Do I keep starting again? Yes. Because the cause of Christ is more important than my pain, and the limp in my walk of faith only draws me closer to God, who is the source of my life. But to be honest, the most encouraging thing to me in Ezekiel’s experience wasn’t that the bones came back to life, although that is quite miraculous. The encouraging part to me was the activity of the Holy Spirit. The breath of God coming from the North, the South, the East, and the West. Knowing my fears and dreams that are on the shelf were front and center at the feet of the God I serve was the most encouraging thing to me. My situation has his full attention, and because I believe in the greatness and the power of God, that is the only place I want it to be, and I will see Him resurrect the dry places in my heart. The hard desert wastelands in my soul will find refreshing by the washing of the water of the word and the river of life will cause my dreams of a ministry and relationships that lasts beyond my time will flourish.

Have you given your time and energy to something, only to see it come to an end? Grieving loss is difficult and I’m not sure it completely goes away but we can learn from it and walk closer with the Holy Spirit, our comforter. Comment below, what is a verse from the bible that encourages you during times like these?

Find me here next week as I wrap up this “How To Face Anything” Series and don’t forget to subscribe before the end of the month to participate in the Birthday giveaway!

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*Featured Photo by McKenna Meyerson.

2 Comments

  1. Stephanie I want to say I am so sorry for your pain and truly hope I have never been the source of it. This has to be one of the most personal post that I can not only see your heart but walked through the experience as well Your post brought me to tears and now I understand from a different perspective. While you are younger than me you have taught me some very valuable lessons today and for that I’m grateful thank U

    I have Only love and respect for you and your family. I am so glad you push through and show us how to receive healing in the broken places of life Please keep doing what you are doing. Because you are making a difference in many lives

    Prayers for you and your ministry Trina Case

    Sent from my iPad

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    1. Not at all Trina. ❤️❤️❤️ Actually, I can share my story from a position of healing and wholeness, and your ongoing friendship has contributed to that. So thank you! You are loved! xo

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