The First Day of the Rest of My Life

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I am fickle. I am also dramatic. The combination of the two often leads me to make inane decisions and impulsive choices.

That’s the reason I took four full months to make the decision to leave the church that I founded eight years ago. The Mercy House has provided my identity for almost a full decade now: serving and shepherding and living life alongside the most creative, missional, loving community of people I could ever hope for. The Sunday morning gathering was often the last thing we worried about in leadership meetings because everyone was so busy with ministry throughout the rest of the week. In short, I had the easiest job any pastor could hope for.

But my time had been coming. For the last couple of years, I’ve journaled about a longing to write full-time. Book ideas were written down but never spoken aloud. New endeavors were silently hoped for as an introverted side began to emerge–much to the surprise of my extroverted, church-planting, social butterfly self of old. Those thoughts were always deemed foolish, selfish, childish or, at the very least, something to get to later.

But for the last four months, I’ve considered the leaving that just happened this last Sunday. “More than a season” is what I knew I needed if I were going to be able to trust my instincts. And for four full months, I wrestled silently and maintained a steady resolve that it was time for me to go. The church was in great shape, new leadership was ready (and desiring) to take over. The exit would be seamless.

Then came the last two months of notice I gave the church. The date that I would leave my post, March 4, was coming up. From the outset, everyone was so supportive. “We’re so excited for you. We love you. We support you. Can’t wait to see what God has for you in this new phase of life.” Those were the statements from all corners of the church community coming in the form of cards, e-mails, phone calls, and meals together. It was echoed this last Sunday when I felt the love and support of a community telling me it was my turn to step out and follow a calling that God had for me, even if it took me away.

Then came the fear. Yes, the fear. I knew it would come. I told those closest to me to expect it. They would ask, “How are you doing with everything?” I would respond, “I’m excited about this new step, but I know I won’t always feel that way.” Why? Because the fear always comes.

Forty-eight hours ago, I was giddy with excitement to finally be able to write about long-held ideas. In fact, I recently read through an old journal from five years ago. On a trip to Ireland, I’d marked the exact same “Write This Someday” list that I still have today. But now everything feels different. It’s hard not to cave to the fear.

I’m sure you know the questions:
What have I done?
Did I make the right move?

Even worse are the statements:
No one will care what you do next.
Nice job. You just abandoned any platform or influence you have.

It was all enough to make me wonder if I could secretly run in on my last Sunday and declare, “Just joking!” Could I get my job back? Can I take a mulligan? While I knew that was silly, I also wondered whether I should start looking for another ministry job or even a “regular job.” Never mind that I had built up enough freelance work to write full-time in the first place (so it’s not a total faith-filled leap with me at a desk in a cabin in some woodlands wondering where I’ll find my next meal), I just know that I am scared of it all.

Quick aside: This is nothing new for me. I once went away for a four day monastic retreat to pray, write, and create some space in my life. I fled after ninety minutes. (I wrote about it here at the RR about four years ago.)

For the first time since I can remember, I now have space. For the first time, I will have the room to chase all of the goals I say that I’ve held.

For the first time, I have to follow through.

I am always so inspired when the rest of you follow through. I read posts about a man writing songs about being an astronaut and know that I have my own ship waiting for me to board. The songwriters, poets, authors and creators here of all types have been a source of inspiration for me since the outset of the Rabbit Room, but only to the point where I nodded my head and thought, “Someday.” Now that I’m past the point of excuse, I find that I don’t want to do this after all.

Only I know that I do. Today is the first day of my new life, and here I sit: coffee in my Rabbit Room mug, The Murph is in the printer (my weird cat who oddly sleeps inside the printer tray anytime I write), laptop ready. Suddenly I don’t want to be here.

I know enough to know that we often don’t want to be in the place where obedience becomes necessary. I also know this is where I am supposed to be. At this point all I can do is trust and hope the things that I write find their own platform. And even if they don’t, I have a feeling that it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they end up as text files on a hard drive on some old computer. The point here is about the journey and I suppose it’s time I start my next one.

Profile photo of Matt Conner

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


19 Comments

  1. Kirsten

    “I know enough to know that we often don’t want to be in the place where obedience becomes necessary. I also know this is where I am supposed to be. ”

    YES.

    You’re truly an inspiration… I’ll be praying for you! And I’m sure I can speak for all of us here when I say we’ll be anticipating your new works, cheering you on, and especially looking forward to reading and hearing about your journey.

  2. Jess

    First: Go it, Mr. Conner! We’ll all be pulling for you. 🙂

    And second: Thanks so much for writing this. I have my own struggles with stepping out into “the undiscovered country” (and the undiscovered country is not always death, as Hamlet was talking about). So I needed that little nudge very badly, and you’ve given it by sharing your own adventure.

  3. JaimeGj

    My heart is with you Matt, as you begin this stage of your journey. It is a terrible goodness to follow what is inside faithfully. Your post made me think of this Langston Hughes poem, I hope it is encouraging — even though your first day is daunting. It’s time to let your flame flare up. 🙂

    Dreams
    Langston Hughes

    Hold fast to dreams
    For if dreams die
    Life is a broken-winged bird
    That cannot fly.

    Hold fast to dreams
    For when dreams go
    Life is a barren field
    Frozen with snow.

  4. Brian

    Glad to see you stepping out in faith (even if you think it’s not as faith-filled as some other gigantic leaps that have been taken in history). Your thoughts on music, life, culture, God and the messy business of being human have inspired me for years. I am glad you are making this transition even if it’s scaring the bejeezus out of you!

  5. miles365

    Matt, I made a similar choice to step away from security about a year ago to focus on writing. A hard daily choice, and one I all too often fail to make. Rooting for you.

  6. JulieannC

    This is inspiring, though for me personally the following through takes the form of diligence and staying put.

    “I know enough to know that we often don’t want to be in the place where obedience becomes necessary. I also know this is where I am supposed to be.”

    This is as relevant to change as it is to perseverance.

  7. Wife, Mother, Gardener

    Such an inspiring plunge into your journey with the Lord and the art that He wants to create through you!

    I feel that same fear when after months of dreaming, reading and note taking, I begin a new garden. My stomach gets tied in knots. I know that there is this incredible potential – to soar or to fail. Any yet, can art in obedience ever really fail? I must make myself move forward, place the first plant and let the others fall into their places.

  8. randizzle

    So I have been through a few changes as well lately… this John O’Donohue poem has kept me from going crazy.

    For a New Beginning

    In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
    Where your thoughts never think to wander,
    This beginning has been quietly forming,
    Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

    For a long time it has watched your desire,
    Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
    Noticing how you willed yourself on,
    Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

    It watched you play with the seduction of safety
    And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
    Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
    Wondered would you always live like this.

    Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
    And out you stepped onto new ground,
    Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
    A path of plenitude opening before you.

    Though your destination is not yet clear
    You can trust the promise of this opening;
    Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
    That is at one with your life’s desire.

    Awaken your spirit to adventure;
    Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
    Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
    For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

    ~ John O’Donohue ~

    (To Bless the Space Between Us)

  9. Janna Barber

    Wow! I can’t wait to see what comes of all this. I thought just this morning about how you said at Hutchmoot that a large part of your job as pastor was giving people permission, and affirmation so they can begin doing what they already feel called to do. I guess you’re finally giving that permission to yourself. No wonder it took you four months! And not that you need it, but you totally have my permission, too. Love ya, bro!!

  10. Ashley Barber

    I’m super excited for you, Matt. I too was thinking about the things Janna Barber mentioned. And I feel that fearful pit in my stomach with you. But I don’t at all doubt that this is right and good. I can’t wait to talk more about it over good food at Hutchmoot!

  11. James Witmer

    Matt,

    You have done what many, many never do – left comfort and safety for the sake of obedience. (And, also building up enough free-lance work to support yourself, so well done on that count as well.)

    Thanks for sharing this. Knowing you’re there, on the brink of running but somehow still standing, heartens me to continue facing my own obedience.

  12. Hannah

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. One thing that always helps me when I sit down to write is the knowledge that a lot of my own favorite authors wrote out of obedience, not knowing what would come of it. George Herbert’s only full book of poetry wasn’t published until shortly after his death, and much of Edward Taylor’s work wasn’t printed for something like 200 years. But both have been very helpful to me, centuries later. They didn’t know what God would do through their work, but I like to imagine them seeing it now, part of the great cloud of witnesses who see God’s work in us and cheer us on.

    It sounds as though your work has a faster writing to publishing ratio, but it’s always exciting to think about the unexpected things God will do through the work of writing, which seems so solitary but ultimately is so communal.

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