This post is part of our series on walking with God in suffering. Learn why we are focusing on suffering in the introduction to the series.
“Often our core wounding becomes our core calling.” –Paul Rhoads
The last two years of my pastorate were more painful than the previous thirteen years. God was at work in that pain to move me into the wilderness of transition and rewire my heart drive. You see, God didn’t want me to continue to lead the way I was leading: having an idea and trying to convince people that it was a good idea, somehow claiming that God was in it somewhere, almost using people to get God’s stuff done so that I would look good. We were led to CRM, where for six months I had a lot of quiet times in which God was detoxifying my spirit from an addiction to doing things for God. I experienced an unprecedented love from the Father as a result of being disconnected from active ministry. That was one of the most painful times of my life, because I wasn’t in control. But God took that pain and used it to launch me into this incredible ministry to other leaders.
As a pastor, I’d assumed that in my more mature ministry years I would be influencing pastors and church leaders, be a confidante, a friend, a coach, and counselor. I didn’t think I’d be doing it at 46. But as I tell other leaders, “I actually know what it’s like to lead when it’s hard, when it’s painful, when people do stuff that’s ungodly in the church,” it creates opportunities. I’m living the truth that core woundings become a part of the core calling.
We know that’s true in other spaces: Who’s the best, most powerful, most influential person for someone who struggles with alcohol? A recovering alcoholic! It’s my belief that this is actually true for many people in the Church as well.
In the ministry I’m part of, we help leaders and churches develop a sense of calling by taking them through a process called the Timeline Exercise. I think of this process as a scripturally-based, powerful tool to help believers gain greater perspective on how God has uniquely shaped them over their lifetime. In this process we create a catalogue of the people, events, and circumstances that have influenced our lives, both positive and negative, and uncover some of our most dynamic and powerful life lessons. We help people connect with their own story, and see it in the light of God’s bigger story.
The timeline process recognizes God’s intimate and very intentional involvement in our whole lives, not just the parts that are pleasant or pretty that we like to talk about, but all of it—even the parts that are difficult or challenging.
As we’re helping people appreciate their story, it’s not uncommon for us to center in on pain, partly because a leader is often most teachable during times of difficulty, pain, loss, or grief, but also because the painful parts of our stories can get in the way of the life God intends for us to live. It’s common to focus on what others have done to us—making us victims—and excuse self-destructive or self-defeating behaviors we are using to soothe ourselves that prevent us from leading with full capacity as God intended.
I’m aware in my own life of ways that I have masked hurt over the years, unknowingly compensating with self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors. My parents divorced when I was ten. My attempt to find stability and control in my life launched me into achievement and education; I tried to manage my hurt by success and performance. The Timeline has been a perfect opportunity for me to be confronted with that and for the Holy Spirit to speak.
When we choose to not minimize or spiritualize our pain, but actually confront it and invite the Spirit of God to meet us in it, powerful things take place. We can ask the Spirit of God to help us reinterpret our pain and also bring some measure of healing to that pain so we’re no longer debilitated.
After my parents’ divorce, there was a lot of anger toward my dad for some broken promises. There was a loss of belonging for me, and as a result I compensated by working hard, trying to control, achieving, excelling in education, etc. How freeing it has been to come back and release my dad through forgiveness, to actually repent from my attempt to control my own destiny in response to those hurts, and to connect to the love of the Heavenly Father, who says not only would I never leave you or forsake you, but I actually couldn’t because of my character.
Often, as we invite God’s Spirit to guide our prayers over these wounds, he acquaints us with the very thing that we need most and deepest. This is my favorite part of the whole Timeline process, because—in my opinion—praying these prayers and believing God is at work is the most transformative part of everything we do.
As I’ve let God work on my heart, my core woundings have launched me into my core calling. My ministry supervisor Gary Mayes has told me, “You want to know what qualifies you for this ministry? It’s the way God has met you in your pain.” When I’m truthful and vulnerable and talk from a place of weakness and brokenness, other people seem to lean in. It draws them. But when I talk about how wonderfully successful I was as a pastor and all the tools and techniques that produced the growth, people are kind of put off. And so Gary Mayes wrote a blessing for me along the lines of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: That in my weakness, the power of Christ would be made perfect. The Apostle Paul says he’s going to boast about what’s not so wonderful and glamorous and positive. I think something in that releases the activity of the Spirit of God. I want more of that.
The way God has met you in your pain is what qualifies you for this ministry. I think Gary Mayes was right. At the end of the day, it’s really about how God has met us in our pain and how he brings beauty out of the ashes as we align ourselves and surrender ourselves to more of who he is and what he has for us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Zimmerman and his wife Becky live in Atlanta, Georgia. David leads the ChurchNEXT reFocusing team, helping leaders and churches connect to their callings so that the good news of Jesus Christ gets to people "outside" the church.
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