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True Love ~ Living Out Sacrifice and Forgiveness

Posted: 10/23/17 at 11:25am. Column by Nate Varnier.

I came into the ministry at 30 years old, fairly bruised up and battered. I had gone through a divorce, two years of depression, the tough learning curve of being a single dad, a layoff at a well-known Richmond engineering firm with no severance pay, and was also facing a soon-to-be foreclosure of my West End condo.

I had no idea what the journey would look like in the years ahead as I entered Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond in 2009. But for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged to something bigger…I felt a sense of hope.

As ministers, we are constantly confronted with our own sacrifices. But how often do we think about the sacrifices of those who journey with us?

As every minister knows, there are many sacrifices we must go through on this journey of vocational ministry. Some are financial, some are geographic, some involve leaving family and friends, and some force you to swallow pride. Some require a leap of faith that keeps you up at night. These sacrifices humble us and teach us about how much we need the strength and guidance of Christ with each new day. Persevering through these sacrifices is what teaches us how to give more of ourselves to our congregation and less to our personal agendas. As ministers, we are constantly confronted with our own sacrifices. But how often do we think about the sacrifices of those who journey with us?

My wife, Julie, and I met just as I started my second year of seminary. We were in engaged in four months and married in eight. A year later I graduated from seminary, and we moved south. Within two weeks of moving to Claxton, Georgia, for our first full-time ministerial call, we found out we were expecting our first child. Exactly one year after serving down south, we were called back to the Northern Neck of Virginia, where I began my first pastorate. About a year and a half into my tenure as pastor, the church experienced unexpected growth that was not welcomed. After many prayers we decided to take a break from ministry and moved back down south to Jackson, Mississippi, near my wife’s hometown. We needed to breathe. We needed space to understand what happened in the last couple of years. And two weeks before moving to Mississippi, we had our second child.

At every turn, I experienced some level of sacrifice—leaving and upsetting family, leaving my teenage daughter, leaving friends, and getting behind in finances—but I never realized until recently how much my wife had sacrificed for me. She originally had a position at VCU Medical Center working with wonderful people, making very good money with benefits that very few companies could match at the time. She had a beautiful home in Forest Hill Park, and a healthy savings account. Julie was just fine; in fact, she was doing great before we met.

We have now moved seven times since we left Richmond in 2012, and Julie has had to find a new job each time that we have moved. She gave up that healthy savings account to help me pay down my debt. She moved our babies across the mid-Atlantic states and back. And perhaps the hardest challenge of them all was how she helped me deal with all of the bruises and brokenness I incurred in my young adulthood, along with insecurities I developed from serving in the ministry. She has done it all without complaining or asking why. Through her sacrificial love and unending forgiveness, she has taught me in an incredible and humbling way how to love the congregation where I serve, and how to accept sacrifice so that others may benefit. She has shown me the bigger picture of how we all are to love each other as the body of Christ.

Rev. Nate Varnier serves as pastor of Oakland Baptist Church in Gum Spring, VA.