As I mentioned in my last column, the March issue marked the sixth anniversary of RELEVANT. I talked about the turnaround we’ve been working on and the new vision for our company. It’s an exciting time for our team.
But there’s another side to the story that’s just as important, if not more so, and it’s one people don’t talk about much. Our last issue going to the printer actually closed an insane deadline season for us. We’re a small team, but had overlapping deadlines sending the magazine and our 200-page ministry book/zine Neue Quarterly to the printer on the same day. And in the midst of it, we relaunched RELEVANTmagazine.com, a massive project I was also very involved in.
We were overloaded, and for two straight months I picked up the slack where I could, while doing my best to lead the team. I was in meetings all day, and working all night. I was working 16- to 18-hour days, six days a week. While that was an extreme season, it’s honestly the result of a pattern I had created for myself over the almost nine years since I founded the company. We always have more ideas than we have manpower and resources, and that adrenaline rush of chasing dreams and taking risks has kind of been my M.O. since day one. To be honest, it’s a pressure and pace that’s difficult to maintain over the longterm.
But somehow, we kept going.
This time, though, it caught up with me. The day after we sent the issue to the printer, I hit a wall. I looked up from the extreme pressure I’d created for myself and realized I was running on empty. My life had gotten consumed with work, and my personal and spiritual lives were dying because of it. I looked up and found my marriage strained, and my relationship with God more distant than I’d ever known it. I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live, and I knew some major changes were needed. So, I talked to my wife and my team about helping me create some boundaries—something, honestly, I’d never put in place before.
I’m passionate about what we’re doing at RELEVANT—it’s my dream job, after all—and because of that I unintentionally let it consume me. I carried the company’s financial stress home. I carried personnel stress home. I carried work home. If a project was more than our limited manpower could pull off, I’d do it myself at night. I had good intentions, but over the years it began to change me. My life’s priorities had flipped without me intending them to, and I needed to intentionally bring balance into my life and how I spent my time.
I had gotten so busy with what I felt I was doing for God, I started to lose my relationship with Him. In the midst of the stress, I was becoming a shell of the man I wanted to be. A void in my heart had formed, and I’d filled the void with more busyness—harming my friendships and marriage in the process. Worse yet, I didn’t even see it was happening. Then one day, my wife told me she couldn’t take
it anymore. Shaken by how hurt she was, and how empty I suddenly found myself, I knew I couldn’t take it anymore either. I needed to get my life back, and fi nd my heart again. For the sake of my marriage, but also for myself too, I needed to figure out how life had gotten so upside-down, to heal and to chart a drastic new course.
So, without so much as a day’s notice, I told the team for this season I needed to do more than just add boundaries to my schedule; I needed a sabbatical. It would be the first long-term break I’ve had in the last nine years. I had to do something drastic to recalibrate my life, find my heart and get my priorities back. I’m actually in the midst of the sabbatical as I write this, and I’m glad to report, it’s working.
I had found myself in a place of extreme isolation. I had positioned life so I didn’t need to ask for help. I didn’t need to rely on God; I didn’t need to rely on friends; if I worked hard enough, long enough and was determined enough, we could overcome any obstacle. I was living in deception and had inadvertently created a cycle that was destroying my life.
The first thing God grabbed my attention about is that I can’t do it alone. We all need to ask for help. We were created for relationship. Self-reliance is pride, and it kills our spiritual life and relationships.
So, I reached out to our church. They recommended a great Christian counselor nearby, who Maya and I now see regularly. The counselor has helped us uncover the roots of the negative patterns in our lives and has helped us begin the long, hard road to spiritual and emotional healing. Since all this started in January, I’ve been reading and praying like never before, and my spirit is alive again. I feel a connection with God that I haven’t sensed, if I’m to be honest, in a decade or more. I’ve surrounded myself with deep and meaningful friendships. I’ve also been able to reconnect in a new way with my wife, and our marriage is being completely renewed and healed. (And not a moment too soon—in the midst of all this, we found out we’re pregnant with our first child. It’s something we’ve been trying and praying for for the last five years—a huge and exciting answer to prayer.)
As I look at life, not one part of me wants it to go back to how it was. I want my priorities to be my relationship with God first, my wife/family second and then everything else. While I know God has called me to do RELEVANT, and He’s given me skills and vision for it, it’s not who I am. My identity is found in Him, and nothing else. You can tell someone’s priorities by how they spend their time. If you were to look at me a few months ago, you’d think I cared about work and nothing else. While that’s not what I wanted, it’s what I was doing and it resulted in other parts of my life being strained or destroyed.
That’s not what God has called any of us to do. We were built for relationship—with Him, with our families, with our friends and communities. If we aren’t prioritizing and deliberately living our lives that way, then we’re missing it. Life will pass us by, and our hearts will become calloused. Like mine. Now that the scales have come off my eyes, I know life will be different. (The first step to change something is being aware of the problem.) And yes, I know that’s easier to say while I’m on sabbatical and not facing the day-to-day routine and associated pressures. The trick will be adding intentional margin into my schedule and making sure I invest in my true priorities every day.
Our generation wants to change the world. And while that’s a good thing and we should chase our dreams with reckless abandon, we need to be careful. Careful we don’t get so busy our priorities inadvertently change, losing our heart or harming relationships. Careful we don’t become self-reliant, as that leads to isolation and pride. And careful we don’t get so consumed with the thing we’re doing
for God, that we lose Him in the process.
CAMERON STRANG is the founder and editor of RELEVANT. You can connect with him on Twitter (http://twitter.com/cameronstrang) or Facebook.
This column appears as FIRST WORD in the May/June 2009 issue of RELEVANT Magazine. You can read it online here.