Thursday, September 4, 2008

FAILURE

A lot of people write during times of emotional duress, anger, stress, and any other number of unpleasant feelings, me included. It’s cathartic. It’s a good way to make yourself feel better about something, or to vent, or to rationalize away these unpleasant feelings. This is not one of those times.

A lot of people like to point out their own shortcomings as a means of somehow elevating themselves, or of proving their piety. Sometimes they do it for pity. Sometimes they do it in the hopes that someone will tell them, "You know what, it's okay." or "It's understandable." or "You'll do better next time." This certainly is not one of those times.

I’m a big believer that we are only given so many opportunities to truly make a difference in people’s lives. I think how we answer these calls says a lot about us and our spiritual health. I’m also pretty sure that God is paying special attention during these times.

I think we, as Christians, are addicted to comfort. We can say all the right things and we can usually do the right things, as long as we don’t disturb our comfort level too much. Every once in a while we might stick our neck out for someone, but I wonder how often we do this for own selfish reasons, ego, or pride. Do we truly do these things because we are doing them for God? Or do we do these things so that we can ultimately feel better about ourselves? For the accolades? For the praise? For the "good seat"?

I think we, as Christians, are all too often afraid to get our hands dirty. I think sometimes it is all too easy to turn a blind eye to those problems that we don’t want to address. I think sometimes when faced with a difficult situation, when God is truly calling on us, it is all too easy to rationalize things away. To make excuses, to do what we need to do to bring that comfort back…To convince ourselves that we are everything that God wants us to be and expects us to be, because after all, we are human, He understands, He doesn't expect too much.

I failed and failed miserably this morning on all of the above counts. With one single thought, with one single feeling, I failed myself. I failed the brothers who were sitting with me. I failed anyone who might look to me as an example. Worst of all, I failed God.

Sitting at McDonalds this morning with my Emmaus Reunion Group, talking about the lack of reverence we show God, my Bible open right in front of me; a very obviously homeless person was struggling to enter through the doors. He was on crutches, but by the time I had taken notice of him, he was about to overcome the obstacle the door was presenting. I’ve played that scene over and over in my head, and I’m certain that my memory is accurate. I probably could’ve gotten up and made the gesture, but that’s all it would’ve been at that point, a gesture. Should I have made the gesture? Yes. Is that where I ultimately failed this morning? Read on.

He made his way to the counter and out of my mind. A couple of minutes later, a member of our group abruptly asked if any of us had any money. I rarely carry cash and as I do every Thursday morning, I scrounged around in the dark before leaving, for $1.25 in change to buy my $1.17 coffee. And my change? Well, I put that in the change container they have at the register for rotating causes. As of late, it’s been a program related to special needs people and horses. My wife, the horse lover, would be so proud. All that to say, I had no money.

Luckily, someone in our group did, our newest member. So, the member who had asked, took the money and bought the handicapped man breakfast. He came back to our table and was shortly followed by the man. And with my first up close look at him, I completely failed. There was no half-way about it, or part way, it was a complete failure. The man was an amputee, hence the crutches. Seeing as he still wore a hospital bracelet, perhaps it was fresh. I don‘t know. He smelled badly because he had just soiled himself. His speech was mostly unintelligble.

My first thought? “Please don’t stop, just keep going.” Wow. I type that and I want to delete it, I want to delete this whole entry. I’m ashamed, I’m angry, I don’t want to think about it, I want to rationalize it away. I want to tell myself that it’s okay, that it was understandable that I was repulsed, that I was put off. And I wonder just how repulsive I was to God at that moment.

It was just a thought. No one else knew it. I didn’t speak ill of anyone. I didn’t take any action against anyone. I didn’t do anything that was of any harm to anyone. A random thought was all that it was, right?

‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

That thought, “Please don’t stop, just keep going”, was a snapshot of my heart at that moment. And that scripture quoted? Matthew 25:40? It’s one that I do happen to think of a lot, one that convicts me, one that I thought I did pretty good living by. I pride (that word right there is probably a part of the problem) myself on my generosity, my willingness to roll around in the muck with and for people, and my propensity to give what others tell me is too much of myself. Yeah? Well, I guess as long as your “muck” isn’t too dirty, I'm there for you. And I also guess that means there are degrees of “doing and not doing” just as there are degrees of “least”. This man’s least was too much for me at that moment. Think God cares what I perceive my limits as being? I don’t.

I want these feeling to go away. I want to do something to distract myself from them. I want to tell myself that I’ll do better next time, and you can bet, I will. I want to feel better about myself. I want to start working on next week’s lesson for the course that I’m teaching at church. I want to work on the talk that I’m giving at the next Emmaus Walk. I want to do whatever I can to make these feelings go away and to make myself feel good about myself and the way that I serve God. But, I can’t.

This shame, this disappointment needs to burn for as long as God allows it burn. I need to squirm. I need to avoid the bathroom mirror. I need to feel and understand my failure. I need to feel and understand the way that I failed myself, my brothers, the man in need, and God, lest I fail again next time or the time after that.

I know that I am forgiven simply because I have asked. But forgiveness does not negate disappointment and whatever else God is feeling towards me at the moment. I think we sometimes lose sight of that. That forgiveness means that everything is just A-Okay after the fact. The weight upon my heart and soul tell me that it is not. I expect more of myself and as a Christian, He expects more of me. I am human, but that is no excuse. I was made by God, valuable enough to be saved by Christ, we all were. And for those who recognize those two things, more is expected. Being human, prone to sin, failings, and screw-ups is a hindrance, not an excuse.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, that my fellow brother who thought to buy the man breakfast, also gave him a ride at least as far as Winchester as he was trying to get to Morehead. I thank God for this brother and his willingness to do for the least of our brethren. I am also thankful that he showed me this morning that while I know and embrace the fact that I am a work in process, it is a far bigger job than I had led myself to believe.

**Just found out that my fellow brother delivered the man to his mother's doorstep in Morehead.

4 comments:

The Queen said...

My question is: "Who HASN'T failed this "test" at one time or another?" I'd be willing to bet your Emmaus Brother had a time or two and that was precisely WHY he went the extra mile this morning. No one comes by the necessary empathy NATURALLY or "natural man" could have been left alone and Jesus would not have had to die.

I'm not blowing off what you did (or didn't do). I'm not even suggesting you "get over it." I'm just saying I feel your pain, wish I could learn from it but cringe inwardly as I both recall my own failures and pray for the opportunities ahead. As long as there is a lesson learned, we NEVER fail. God bless you brother.

Marty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marty said...

Ditto what "the Queen" said.
We are forgiven. That doesn't negate the consequences of what we did or didn't do it just means we are forgiven. That's grace and grace is what gives us the chance to learn from our short-comings and "failures." God will still use you (and me) in spite of our human mistakes. We're in good company. Think of Moses, David, Peter, and Paul, to name a few. What would truly be a failure is if we don't learn and react to every ounce of grace that God bestows on us.

Anonymous said...

This is a constant problem for me. In my case it is easy to do the quick act of charity with a stranger, but troubled people seem to be attracted to me, and in some cases they become long-term charges. One of them shows up at my house unannounced nearly every day, drinks my coffee, and takes up my precious time with his psychotic chatter. I sometimes just wish he would leave - but he is homeless and nearly friendless (he literally lives in a ditch). These feelings trouble me until I think how remarkable it is that God has blessed me to the point I can minister to this man. The inconvenience and feelings of inadequacy are part of the training I must undergo to become what God want me to be - whatever that is.

- Gordon