Monday, September 8, 2008

Wake-Up Call

So, I’ve had a few days to pray and think about last Thursday. When you really get down to it, there was/is a lot going on in that situation. It’s easy, probably too much so, to focus entirely on myself, my failure, my feelings, etc. Thankfully, I realized that pretty early on in this process. I’ve spent time praying for the gentleman at the heart of this situation. I’ve also spent time thanking God for the brother who stepped up without hesitation. I’m thankful for the example he set, not only for me, but for our entire group. I’m thankful that he had that opportunity to serve God and “the least of these brethren”. It is important that we seek, remember, and give thanks for the good that is so often taking place alongside the bad.

Praying and thinking about these things was helpful, but there was still that pain and weight upon my heart at my failure…for which I was also and remain thankful for. Thursday was a tough day. Nobody likes to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or angry with themselves. Nobody likes to feel that they’ve let themselves down, much less God. For myself personally, there is not much that I despise more than the feelings of regret. That feeling that if only I had done that one thing differently or handled that situation differently. That feeling of wanting to take something back is brutal.

And it was with these thoughts, these feelings, and many others that I began taking a good, hard look at myself and my situation. And as I did this, I was reminded of last Christmas (Why should that be surprising, right?) Last Christmas, bar none, was the absolute worst Christmas of my life. You ever hear anyone say, “What’s the worst they’re going to do? Take your birthday away?” Turns out, there is in fact worse that can be done, at least in my opinion. I took Christmas from my son. He had screwed up monumentally. Matter of fact, it wasn’t just one monumental screw-up, it was a series, each unrelated to the last. And you know for me to cancel Christmas, it had to be pretty substantial.

When I think about that time, the first things that pop into my head are the deep disappointment I felt in my son, as well as anger, among a few other things. But the thing I remember most of all? Above everything else? That Christmas morning, which just absolutely broke my heart, I remember the sense of overwhelming love I felt for my son. It was so acute, so powerful. The other feelings were still there, believe me, they were still there, in full effect, but if there was ever a time when the kid could’ve actually drowned in the love emanating from me to him, it was that morning. Despite being extremely disappointed and angry with him, there was no denying that I loved him more than ever.

That’s how I felt Thursday, except I was on the other end. I still felt those unpleasant feelings, they still stung, they still made me squirm, but I also felt God’s love in a way that I don’t normally feel it. I felt like I was enveloped in it, yet, I didn’t feel like it was trying to drown out those unpleasant feelings. It was a strange, yet incredible feeling to say the least. It was as if God were making darn sure that I felt His love, but that He still expected me to deal with these other matters. And deal I did.

I’m tough on myself. I expect a lot of myself and I’ve never been one way to shy away from addressing my failures (I’ve had enough practice after all). I don’t take it to self-destructive levels, nor do I ever let it interfere with God’s grace, but I will stay after it until I’m certain that I’ve sufficiently addressed it. Every day since Thursday, I’ve been after it.

So, what have I learned? I learned that Thursday was a wake-up call for me. Feeling like I did Thursday, was so out of my character for me. Maybe I was just having a bad morning? Or maybe it was just one of those “human” moments we all have? Maybe it was just an anomaly? Maybe one of those things is the right answer or maybe it’s a combination. Who knows? What I do know, is that it doesn’t matter. It came far too easily to me, that feeling of, “I really don’t want to be bothered with you.”

In that, I realized that I had gotten way too comfortable and way too complacent with myself. I serve my church tirelessly, always willing to step up and do whatever is asked of me. I don’t hesitate to step into the fire for friends. These are all good things and they can certainly be ways of serving God. But have I really been serving God? I don’t really have a clear answer for that. I think a good portion of the time I was. But I also think at times I was enjoying the pats on the back, the kind words a little too much….which is really out of character for me. I normally find that stuff embarrassing. I had always been a big believer in doing my “good” in secret. Let the world think I’m cantankerous :) God knows the truth.

The more that I dug, the more that I reflected, the more that I really took a good, long, hard look at myself, the more I realized that I was becoming everything that I despise and everything that I swore I would never be when I accepted the call to pursue the ministry. My behavior was slowly transforming into the very type that I would not have hesitated to jump all over. The very type that would have had me growling, “This is what is wrong with the church today.” I also learned a lot about humility and that I need to be more understanding and gentle with some. I’m sure most probably set out into the ministry not unlike myself (albeit probably far more respectable than I could ever dream). Idealistic, intent on changing the world, and calling people back to the truth of God and His word.

But sometimes, sometimes people get lost, far easier than they would have ever dreamed. And before you know it, you’re thinking of cutting your hair and getting something “well coifed” and respectable looking. You’re thinking you really need to invest in some nice suits, perhaps even designer. You begin thinking that perhaps you need a nicer car (or motorcycle in my case) to drive. After all, you’re doing God’s work, you deserve a little something extra, He won‘t mind. And before you know it, you’re secretly hoping that people in need will pass right on by your table, when only yesterday you were praying that God would put those people in your path. Today, I thank God for unpleasant feelings. Today I'm thankful that I remember my place and my calling are more often than not going to be in the mud and dirt of life, not in pristine sanctuaries.

We all too often shy away from the unpleasant within…guilt, anguish, shame, disappointment, and fear. But you know what? Just as God created the good feelings we have for a reason, He also created the unpleasant ones as well. They are there for a reason. Explore them, kick them around, look at them honestly…understand why they are there. God will help us do this, if we are sincere and honest about it, and willing to make the changes that need to be made. He certainly held my hand in this process and I certainly didn’t deserve it. Talk about grace.

***On Friday, February 15, 2008, my wife did not go to work. My son was not awoken to go to school. He had spent two long months addressing those things which had gotten him into trouble. It was tough, there were minor hiccups in the road, but he took it all to heart and made the hard changes he chose to make. When he did finally stumble out of his bedroom that morning, he was met by an unexpected sight. The Christmas tree had reappeared in the living room and beneath it, the Christmas he had forfeit and then some.


The Queen said...

This is kind of along the lines of a conversation I had with Phil Morgan on Sunday. He is carrying a heavy load -- has been for quite some time -- giving so much as Worship Leader (voluntarily) and being a FULL time, dad, husband and employee. He works 3rd shift (or some other ungodly hour) and then comes in at 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings. . . well, I prayed for him Sunday morning out of a sense of helplessness and we kicked some scriptures and songs around and I was talking about Ecclesiastes. He quoted a scripture about sadness (I'm so bad with quoting scripture) but then talked about a song by "The Choir" from a few years back that his band did based on that scripture. You know, there has to be sadness, real deep sadness, in order to appreciate the joy.

Lessons in humility are so hard. Sometimes I feel my life is one continuing humility lesson -- and God has to really clobber me with it occasionally.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, no matter how close we get, seminary students included, we never "make it" -- unless we are somehow able to become transcendent which is another topic altogether. And that sort of leaves out "the least of these.. . ." Anyway, take heart brother, the fact that you are learning from the experience is meaningful in and of itself . . . and you did great with Christmas!

and p.s. I meant to tell you the other night that it's a stupid idea to think you have to cut your hair. You can reach so many more lost people if you leave it long -- it's approachable and you won't have to feel self conscious about the view of your naked neck. . . I'm just sayin'.

Marty said...

All I can say is "I love you, your wife, your son and the Spirit of God that shines from you like a beacon." Stop being so hard on yourself and praise God for His wisdom and His desire to use you. Then thank Him for the way he teaches us, even when it hurts.

Anonymous said...

Just think what happened to Samson when he cut his hair!

At my church, the ministers often have long hair and beards. Maybe you should explore Orthodoxy.

- Gordon