Eventually, God made it clear that Cavendish was where He wanted us to stay. Eventually, as my husband was convicted to stay, he shared his commitment with the people in our church. And eventually, as people began to actually believe we were staying, a woman I'll call Lucy told us this story.
On the day my husband officially became the pastor here, our church threw a party. Family and friends came from far and near to join the celebration. As Lucy stood waiting in line for munchie food and cake, she couldn't help overhearing some of our friends talking. One said, “This is a nice little church for them to start with.” The other agreed, “Yes, but soon he'll be able to move on to a better one.”
My heart ached when I first heard this story and that ache has never fully gone away. How did Lucy feel hearing guests at her church make these statements in such a matter-of-fact way? How did she feel about my husband using her community as a stopover on his way to something “better?”
Even after overhearing that conversation, Lucy chose to do something extraordinary – she chose to love us. She had us for dinner, gave us veggies from her garden, baked homemade goodies, gave our children birthday gifts, babysat without notice during emergencies, loaned us her vehicle and so much more. For me, Lucy is a living example of Paul's instructions to the church at Ephesus.
“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” -Ephesians 5:1-2 The Message
We cannot truly love if our intention is to advance ourselves. A relationship will never be genuine if we plan to stay only until someone “better” comes along. A true friend doesn't say, “I'll hang with you until I get in with the popular crowd.” A true spouse doesn't say, “I'll be married to you until I meet someone I like more.” A true pastor doesn't say, “I'll stay until I find a better church.” None of these are following Jesus Christ in the way He loves us.
While God doesn't call everyone to love through long-term ministry, it needs to become a much more common practice in our Church culture. When we commit to embracing a community and staying in that one place, we are forced into confronting our selfish desires and ambitions. It's tempting to think we can leave our problems far behind by moving on to something “better.” But the reality is that we carry our struggles within us. Having the spiritual discipline of staying where we are allows God to work to bring us to maturity. And, in case we forget, the Bible tells us repeatedly that the primary characteristic of a mature Christian is loving like Jesus loves.
So, I'm asking Jesus to help me live a mature life of extravagant love by committing to Cavendish Vermont – not considering what I can get out of it, but considering what I can give. I want to challenge other pastoral families to join us in choosing something extraordinary – staying with our churches and loving our communities. My husband has often said it would be amazing if God raised up a generation of church-leaders in our region who were committed, as a whole, to the difficult work of sticking with their churches through an entire lifetime of spiritual challenge and growth. Is God calling you to join us in loving like that?