By Pastor Troy Schmidt| Senior Pastor
About 6 months ago, my church blessed me with the opportunity to take a sabbatical. Extended time away to rest and rejuvenate and most people had no idea how much I needed it. The years of ministry had caught up with me. I was becoming numb. No highs, no lows, just numb. It wore me out to be around people, I usually just wanted to retreat and hide. The sad thing is that it was probably the most exciting time of ministry for me, but I wasn’t feeling it. My family suffered. I was suffering. I wondered where and how I would go from here?
The start of my sabbatical was going to be two weeks away by myself. My bike was loaded in the pickup and I was heading for the hills (literally). I would be spending time just outside Angel Fire, New Mexico, Durango, Colorado and Steamboat Springs. I was going to bike, hike, read, write and rest. I almost didn’t go – wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that much time with myself – I hadn’t been much fun lately.
My first night in New Mexico, I found myself wrestling with what was next. I had no doubt that I was still being called to pastor – and specifically to pastor the church I serve, Gethsemane, through this next chapter. At the same time though, I knew something had to change. I needed a new way of dealing and moving forward in the call I have. I wasn’t going to make it if I didn’t. It was through that wrestling that God reminded me of an experience I had in High School. An experience which taught me a far greater lesson than I realized at the time.
In high school, I was a rower. I rowed crew (long skinny boat with oars) for a public high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was part of the original eight that started the team and the first regatta our upstart crew ever rowed in was quite memorable. Don’t get me wrong, there is no reason why a public high school from southeast Michigan should be trying to compete with the prep schools and boat clubs of the rowing community – but there we were. To say we were the black sheep of the pack would be an overwhelming understatement.
The white t-shirt’s and gym shorts of our eight man team stood out (not in the good way) against the streamlined uni-suits of our competition. While they were fine-tuning their brand new Vespoli racing shells, we were looking for the guy our coach knew who had a boat we could borrow for the race. We were different – and we didn’t care. We kind of liked it – it gave us our edge. We didn’t want to be like the other teams – we were the River Rats! (true story – our high school mascot was the river rat – look it up – Huron High School in Ann Arbor, MI) Being the outsider in a very insider sport would be the thing that made our crew special, but on this day, we just felt like outsiders. We didn’t have to hear what they were thinking, we could feel it; “Who are these guys?” “What are they doing here?” “Really?!?!”. But here we were – like it or not, and we were ready to make our splash.
Rowing up to the start line, we could all kind of tell that there might be an issue, but none of us were really willing to admit it. The gray, cold water of the Detroit river would occasionally crest the side of our undersized shell. While we were used to seeing a little water in the hull of our boat, this seemed a little excessive. But we kept rowing. Up to the start line, into position, awaiting the sound of the starting gun, and then off. We were new to this sport and on this particular day, not all exactly in sync. But we worked hard, and did the best we could. Stroke after stroke, pull after pull, we fell further behind and the water in our boat rose higher and higher. We didn’t want to give up, but at a certain point you have to take care of the issue at hand – and our’s was water! An official moved closer, noticing our boat riding lower and lower in the water. Our coxswain had already begun bailing water out with her hat, and after one particularly large wave crested the side of our boat, we all joined in. Officials threw us a coffee can from their boat, we were frantically bailing water out with our hands, hats, anything we could. It was too late, we could not get ahead of things, it was a losing battle. More and more waves crested the side of our shell and then one final knock-out blow from the cold and gray Detroit river. No more bailing – it was just time to bail. We were pulled from the water, rescued from the waves and deposited onto the dock. We were cold, we were wet, and we couldn’t believe what just happened. It was like we proved what everyone had already been thinking about us; what business did we have in this sport? Who did we think we were? This could have been it – we could have let that moment define us and quit. But we didn’t.
A year later we were winning. The same crews laughing at us that day were being passed by us on later days. We were the same crew – but we were different. We had a resolve and a determination. We had a way of dealing and a mode for moving forward. That eight man boat that sank that cold grey day went on to be nationally ranked. We smoked military academies on their homecoming weekends, raced fearlessly in international competition, and of the eight, five of us were heavily recruited to row in college. Not bad for a pack of River Rats. Early failure and the expectation of others would not define us – we would move forward.
Back to today, I still find myself on that dock from time to time. Cold, wet, shivering and wondering where and how to go from here. I haven’t got it all figured out yet and still struggle, but I feel like I am making progress. I’m excited to share a message series that has been on my heart since the summer. It’s called, “Deal With It,” and it starts Sunday. It’s based off of what I feel God was teaching me on sabbatical, and what I learned moving forward from that cold, grey day on the Detroit river.
It’s based on six lessons I’ve learned and flows from the relationship we have with God and what He teaches us through scripture. Here’s what it’s going to look like:
- Lesson One: There will always be haters. You will always have people you feel are unfairly judging you. Don’t allow their perspective to define your person. God has defined you by the gift of His Son – your identity is in Him.
- Lesson Two: The water is rough. God does not call us to easy things. His work is hard, can feel scary and takes work. That’s why He is with us, gives us His Spirit and calls us to be there for one another. Remember to pray.
- Lesson Three: It takes a team. You can’t get there on your own so don’t try. Appreciate the gift of others in your life. Spend more time “one anothering.”
- Lesson Four: Progress takes patience. You can’t get there in a day – you need to pace yourself. Good rest is as important as hard work.
- Lesson Five: You will fail and need rescue. Past failures do not have to define your future trajectory. Failure is an event – not a person. Expect to fail, learn from it, and move on.
- Lesson Six: A greater goal will bring greater grace. Focusing on a greater goal will give strength and perspective when facing challenge. Remember the why when you feel worn down by the how. Remain faithful to God’s calling and leave all the consequences to Him.