We all make mistakes. Those that think they don’t, probably make the most mistakes. Fortunately, God is gracious and lets us see what we did wrong. Unfortunately, it is sometimes too late to completely “re-do” things. But it is good that God knows that and includes our mistakes as part of his redemptive story to ultimately bring an end all “mistakes.” I hope to share some of these, personal and uncomfortable as they are, to do two things. First, to remind you that Jesus still loves people who are full of mistakes. Second, to warn you to avoid these things. Maybe if I would have known what I was doing, I might have acted differently.
1. Ministry (Church within a church)
I spent four years as a youth pastor/leader for a Russian Pentecostal church, where my father is senior pastor. While the church is thoroughly traditional, culturally conservative, and fundamentalist, I assumed it was my role to “change the church.” Where the culture stated women must not wear pants or jewelry, but instead head coverings, or that men must not wear jeans, or even that drums are sin, I fought each battle. I fought to create a tiny sub-culture inside a small sub-culture. Eventually there were doctrinal issues as well, I tried to forge a nondenominational evangelical church while my elders wanted a traditional Slavic Pentecostal church. I worked hard to make my youth service radically different from the main church. I ended up trying to create a church within a church. Ultimately it is foolish to work towards a conflicting purpose against your elders and church body; nothing can grow from such disunity. If there are completely different philosophies of ministry in play, they will cancel each other out. You will get nothing useful done. If you are in this situation you have a few options, depending on your specifics. If there are minor issues, such as you personally don’t like the music, culture, or etc, ignore that and jump full force into serving the ‘unified mission’ of the Gospel with whole church. If there are major ideological or theological differences, such that completely disable you from supporting the mission of the elders/church, find another church and serve Jesus there with your whole heart. Find a place where you can support the official mission of the church, and throw all your weight into that.
2. Career (Expecting an easy path)
When I was younger I listened to way too much advice, all of it from good people who cared. My family and friends strongly influenced me into the medical field. They all agreed that it was the “best” field because it was so prestigious and well paying. At first, I was going to be a doctor, but my resolve failed when I realized that while I wanted a doctors salary, I didn’t want to go to school and study for it, or work as one. Based on everyone’s “recommendations” I switched to a nurse, finished my two year prerequisites, and then realized I didn’t want to do that type of work either. I ultimately was convinced to do a thing called Nuclear Medicine Technology, and so I got a second two year degree, but was unable to find a job (there were 10 new grads and 4 laid off techs for every 1 open job). After a year of struggling to find a job, I learned a big lesson about education: it’s not what colleges say it is. I was taught (by college marketers) that education will open all the doors in the world; you simply need to do is pass your class and you will be hired on the spot. It turns out you have to grasp those doors and yank it with all you are worth. After literally hundreds of applications and resumes, it was networking that got me a job where I am now employed. Don’t listen to everyone, learn what you want to do, discover your passion, and forge your own path to work in it. There is no easy path, you will have to fight for every inch. Unless you study engineering; engineering always works.
3. Dating (Upside down romance)
My parents tried to raise me with old time Slavic ideas on marriage. They grew up in a time when society was transitioning from arranged marriages to the confused conglomerate of ideas it is now. I commonly heard stories about my dad, who once received a drink from a young woman, and promised her a reward, then was confronted with a demand to marry her as the “reward.” True story. (I always thought “oh heck no, I ain’t getting no drink from nobody!”) On the other hand my culture was completely the opposite, people dated and even slept together, yet dreaded marriage. I didn’t have a healthy understanding of relationship and marriage as I was growing up and so I acted out of my foolishness. (Fortunately a little later down the road, I did run into much better teaching). I met my wife online, by accident, and in person by accident. Yet, quite purposefully I began to pursue her, in an upside down manner. Psychologists state emotional intimacy is built in five stages: 1) creating safe communication, 2) speaking about others pinions and beliefs, 3) speaking about personal opinions, 4) revealing feelings and experiences, and lastly, 5) divulging emotions and desires (Link). Within a month we were revealing our greatest desires and our innermost emotions. We spoke from the deepest wellsprings of our hearts and began to reveal secrets we had never told anyone, even our best friends, siblings, or parents. This is a very good thing… for spouses, which we were not. Because of this upside down beginning, insanity ensued, fortunately God fixed it. My advice it, don’t start a relationship upside down, start with casual friendship, work your way up, slowly one step at a time.