The Day I Resigned

My fingers trembled as I lifted the phone to my ear. Thousands of butterflies took up residence in my stomach as my fingers slowly began dialing the number of my direct supervisor. This is it, I said to myself, There’s no going back now. I held my breath as the phone rang gently in my ear. I could barely keep my voice even as I asked the administrative assistant to connect me to my supervisor.

“Hello?”

“This is Ruth.” Deep breath. “I’m calling to tell you I have decided to resign.”

My eyes skimmed the notes I had jotted down to be certain I didn’t leave anything out of this important call. And I waited with anticipation and a little anxiety. I had rehearsed the speech a hundred times that morning, but this was the part where my imagination went silent. I couldn’t even begin to formulate the response I might receive from him. Would it be condemnation? Pity? Anger? Cold professionalism? How would my other colleagues react?

When you work for an organization long enough, it begins to feel like family. This is especially true for a church. Sure, some days my church feels stifling—rules and regulations flow freely as representatives from the head office demand reports and programs and statistics and updates. But this “stifling” could also be described as “security.” It was this authoritative hierarchy that knit us together as fellow pastors. We complained about the same regulations and uniformity that bonded us as allies. What would my colleagues, fellow members of the organizational family, think of my decision? Would they assume that only a grievous sin could rip me from my calling? Or feel betrayed by one of their own? Or just sad for a loss? Or, maybe, just maybe, they would rejoice with me as I stepped out in faith.

 

Step One: Called to Serve

As I contemplated my colleagues’ reaction, my mind went back to a wooden altar in a camp chapel in Wisconsin. The altar where I knelt and heard, oh so clearly, a calling from God: “I want you to serve in full time ministry.”

The speaker had started his message promising that we would know God’s will for our lives by the end. He used the image of an egg—a white and a yolk. If God’s will is the white and your will is the yolk, you can go anywhere you want, do anything you want. But if you make God’s will the yolk and try to fit him into your life, you’ll always have problems.

Don’t ask me how, but that simple illustration translated to a call to ministry. I had made a commitment as a teenager that whatever God called me to do, I would do. I refused to waste any time attempting to run. So when I heard God call me into full time ministry I said “Yes.” I remember feeling inadequate, and more than a little scared. But I told God “If that’s what you want from me, then I’ll do it. I’ll need a lot of help, but I’ll do it.”

praying_woman_in_church

Step Two: A Crisis of Career

Fast forward 13 years. I followed God’s calling into ministry and began serving with my church as a pastor. I soon began to feel the burden of ministry. It’s not a typical 9-to-5 job. It’s long, lonely, heart-breaking hours with little pay, few accolades, and a constant supply of critics. I was miserable most of the time.

There are true rewards in ministry and I experienced them, but I also experienced the heaviness of the work. As I looked back at my ministry, the misery outweighed the reward. And I knew that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. I knew other people who were called to this work and loved it. They felt the burdens, too, but the rewards were enough to counter that burden.

I looked closely at my life to see what exactly I didn’t like about my job:

It wasn’t the people. I loved working with people—heartache, joys, and everything in between.

It wasn’t the town or the church I was assigned.

It wasn’t the office staff. I worked with an excellent group of employees.

It was pastoring that I didn’t like. It was being responsible for another person’s spiritual life. It was being on-call 24/7. It was never leaving the work at the office, as spiritual burdens tend to follow you home and gnaw at your mind as you attempt to fall asleep. It was getting a call on vacation to hear someone criticize me. It was the constant feeling that I was behind on emails, or reports, or program preparation. It was the relentless anxiety that I was not measuring up to someone’s ideal of pastor—whether it was my colleague, my supervisor, a representative from the head office, or one of my parishioners. There was never a day that I found approval from all sides.

I know what you’re thinking: Ruth, that happens in every job. No matter where you work, you’ll find someone who doesn’t think you’re good enough. True enough, but that doesn’t erase the sting of the feeling of spiritual inadequacy.

Maybe at this point you’re saying: Ruth, why did it matter that you didn’t please a few people. Isn’t it God you’re supposed to be pleasing anyway? Another valid point. And if you can confidently say that no one else’s opinion matters, then maybe you’re cut out for the ministry. But it did matter to me. And I couldn’t shake it.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t something I could fix by just not caring about others’ opinions. It was deeper than that. I was miserable in my job calling, and I wanted out.

 

Step Three: God’s Release

I struggled with understanding how I could hear God’s voice so clearly as a teenager, but question that same calling as an adult. God, didn’t you call me? Did I hear you wrong? Did you change your mind? Did you get the wrong person? Am I just not working hard enough? Do I need to hold on a little longer? Stick it out through the wilderness and find the reward?

These were the questions swirling through my mind as I prayed at a retreat. Suddenly I found myself drawing a picture of an egg in my journal. God’s will is the white, the notes seemed to scream at me. This job is only one small piece of the whole picture. “You’ve served me well in this area, but I have other areas of ministry.”

Tears ran down my cheeks as I felt God’s release. This ministry wasn’t a life sentence after all. It was okay to not like it. It was okay to move on.

 

Step Four: Resignation

It would be more than a year before I acted on that release. God continued to work in my life as I experienced a whole new level of joy and heartache in this ministry.

But, eventually, I had to do the right thing for myself and for the people I serve. It was time to resign from my position.  When I finally made that decision, a weight lifted from my shoulders.

Then, I knew I had to give my resignation to my supervisor.

I waited anxiously to hear his response to my resignation. No condemnation. No questioning me about God’s will or if I had prayed enough about it. Just a calm acceptance, and concern for my wellbeing.

Few things are as rewarding as discovering your boss is a godly leader. Although, I really had nothing to fear. In the short time he had been my boss I had been called into his office twice, and he had calmly sat through my blubbering in front of him. He had assured me that I had what it took to do the job. In every interaction he made it clear that he cared about me as a person, not just as one of his charges. And when it came time to hear my resignation, he prayed with me.

 

Step Five: Now What?

Soon, everyone will hear the news of my resignation. I began with close friends, family, and cherished mentors. I have heard messages of encouragement, confirmation of my decision. But now I will really find out what people think.

Maybe some will say that I failed. That’s okay. Really, I did fail, and it’s a good thing.

One of my favorite podcasts is Freakonomics, a quirky look at economics and life. One of their most popular podcasts is called “The Upside of Quitting” where they examine just how good quitting can be for your health and life. One of the interviews was with Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL talking about “Hell week” where recruits are pushed to their limits and many end up quitting. It turns out there are two kinds of quitters, the ones who make excuses and the ones who are honest with themselves:

“I don’t think many people want to say to themselves that they’ve quit. At the same time, we’ve all failed in our lives, we’ve all failed at different things in different ways and I think there’s a lot to be said about facing that failure squarely. And the people who I know, who were able to admit, ‘This isn’t right for me at this time and I decided to quit,’ they’re really able to move on from their experience. And I do find that there’s only shame in it if you feel shame.

quit now

I’m not leaving because this work is hard. I’m not leaving because of my political or theological views. I’m not leaving because I’m angry with God or with the organization.

I’m leaving because this is not right for me anymore. God is leading me elsewhere. I’m anxious about the future, about stepping out of the comfortable security of this job, but I’m confident in the words of Stanley Ditmer:

I’m in His Hands, I’m in his hands,

Whatever the future holds, I’m in his hands

The days I cannot see have all been planned for me

His way is best, you see, I’m in his hands.

 

25 thoughts on “The Day I Resigned

  1. You already know how much I love you and how proud I have always been of you. I am even more proud of you now. I know this wasn’t an easy quick decision. I know you made it after much prayer and waiting on God.
    The song Go in the Strength of The Lord comes to my mind. The next line is, in the path He has marked for your feet, and that is what you are doing. I love my Ruth..!

  2. I am sorry about you leaving, but I understand. I am still your friend and I have enjoyed your post so just keep in touch. Praying as you start a new chapter of your life. Praying for you Ruth.

  3. Your honesty is an encouraging. May God bless you and show you your next steps.

  4. Read your post/site just now. Very well presented with balance and open honesty.

    In 1985 we left Western Territory as DYS in Southern Cal after 7.5 years field service following commissioning in 1978. It was the right thing to do and we still followed an active life of spiritual service in a nearby Corps following.

    After healing for about six months, we jumped into Corps life AND professional careers. 50-60 hours work plus band, songsters and Corps Cadet co-leaders. Very good setting to raise our family and worship.

    After our kids were grown, married and finished with college, and starting to produce grandchildren, the calling and covenant retook center stage in our lives. After 18.5 years away, we returned to the ranks.

    That was eleven years ago. We retired last Summer as (dual) DS in Hawaii. We were both convinced that the experience we gained outside Officership prepared us to better-serve with highly technical and diversified skills when we returned in 2004.

    Keep following Jesus wherever He leads. Just don’t lock the doors you close behind you on your journey. You may be very surprised where He will lead you in the future. Even if it seems like a circle to some, if God is preparing you for greater challenges, don’t rule out any “destination”. You could deny yourself the joys of living in an unfolding miracle.

    Blessings to you. Would love to correspond if you think it would be helpful.

    Fred

    • Thank you for sharing. I have no idea where God could be leading me and I know it’s possible that He’ll lead me right back to officership someday.

  5. I don’t know you well, but want you to know you have my support and friendship. In sorry it’s been so lonely and I’m glad the Lord released you. Thanks for your clear and respect filled communication. Love.

  6. Ruth – excellent thoughts and heart pains. Please know I will be praying for God’s leading for you. Thank you for your honesty. Blessings!

  7. Ruth, know that you are doing what’s right for you and for the right reasons! I’m committed to praying for you! Please keep in touch and I’ll do the same!

  8. I’m not sure we have ever met, but your sentiments and feelings were very much the same as mine as I was leaving the ranks. I had a deep sense that God was calling me to something else. Since I wasn’t sure what that was it was hard to explain to others. I wish you well in your new endeavors. God bless you.

  9. Dear Ruth, I am so sorry you had to make this decision in life. It is always hard but you must know you are in my prayers and always will be. I wish you much luck in your move forward and know that God will continue to grow in your spiritual life if you allow it. He has been there for me through a lot…..I know the feeling of resigning…..God still loves us unconditionally tho and He is there to guide us……I know He is your Guide…..Blessings my dear and good luck to whatever the future holds for you.

  10. Thank you for your post. You are not a failure! Please keep us posted on your future endeavors. I’m sure you will be so happy!

  11. This was so beautifully written. You definitely have a gift of clear thought and expression.

    My parents left officership after 15 years and felt a stigma and a bit blacklisted for many years. I do not want you to feel that in any way. What you are doing takes courage and faith and a strong walk with the Lord.

    For my parents, my mom came back in after my father died and the Army has been very good to her. However, my dad never felt that he would be welcomed back. Again, I don’t want you to feel that. Who knows how God will lead in your life. If He chooses to lead you back into being an officer, I pray that you will find open arms. I can’t speak for others but my words would simply be “Come!”

    Having said all this, I can’t help but feel a bit of sadness in that we have lost another good officer. God bless you on your new journey.

    As a side note, may I ask if you will be coming back to Nebraska?

    Thanks for sharing your heart. It touched mine.

    • Thank you. I have felt nothing but encouragement, though tinged with sadness. I will be returning to Nebraska. I plan to move in with my sister in Omaha.

  12. I love, love, love that illustrton of the egg! Wherever you land, I know it will be on your feet (of course, they will be bare)! You are brilliant and creative, Ruth. Praying for you as you begin this next step on your journey! Blessings–

  13. Ruth!
    Thank you for sharing from your heart to us. Few month ago, I read in a billboard here in East Chicago what still I can remember every time I have a difficult situation or challenge.
    It’s showing the picture of an athlete running and in big words “IF IT HURTS, DO IT HARDER”.
    I wish you will write a book, a life testimony, a challenge to others, I loved reading it from you and I can hear your voice softly and clearly. God bless you and He is alway with you and for you!
    I hope and wish to see you again.

  14. It seems like I just got to know you! You’re a lovely woman, Ruth! I pray God will soon open the right door He wants you to walk through in your ministry calling. Your letter was beautiful and touch my spirit. It’s a privilege to keep you in prayer!

  15. We know how hard this decision was and we’re happy for you. Wishing you joy and blessings during this transition. You’ll be an asset anywhere you land. We’ll all miss your insight and knowledge.

  16. Thanks for sharing this Ruth. I am glad that you found support in the small group we are both a part of. I also want to thank you for how much you gave to us in the group with your presence and insights. We are praying that God will provide a clear path toward your next adventure.

  17. Ruth. Thank you for sharing your heart. God speed to you as you follow His plan for your life.

  18. I am sad you are leaving but I know from personal experience that there are many avenues of ministry. God will show you where He wants you. I love the way you said it! There is much thought in what you wrote. You will be in my prayers.

  19. Ruth-Thanks so much for your honesty. As we continue on our journey post-officership, it is encouraging to hear someone else say that leaving is not because of bitterness/discontent/anger, but just because God has “other areas of ministry”. Active officers would be wise to listen to what God is really saying, and not just what the Army says they should be.

    God has good plans in store for you. I am proud of you for listening and responding.

  20. Ruth u are an awesome and spiritual person inside and out. I have been very inspired by u. I loved listening to ur sermons. I actually just talked about u on Sunday when we sang the song of Zion. I can never remember the real name sorry. There passion u had every time you sang it. I will keep u in my prayers daily. God will speak and show u what lies ahead. Love and hugs to u!!!

  21. You are loved.Where ever you land you will always be in my prayers and
    ln my heart.You have taught me much and i will never forget you.May
    God bless an keep you forever more.

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