Disclaimer: This post is fairly personal…read on at your own risk.
This has been one of those weeks. You probably know what I am talking about. A week when I want to call Marty McFly and Doc Brown to see if they can give me a ride in the DeLorean back to last week so I can get a “redo”. The difficulties of the week have centred around some very difficult and challenging conversations. Conversations where people made it clear that they wanted things from me that I was not providing. Sometimes it was because they only saw a portion of the reality that I was dealing with. Other times it was because their idea of church is a place where they can get what they want instead of a place where they come to sacrifice their lives for the world. Other times people that I have cared about and invested time and energy into just walked away because they didn’t feel I had given enough. And there is doubtless some truth in what they communicated. Hard words were said, words that hurt, and words that are hard to forget. I have been on this spiritual journey for a while, and I have learned that often it is pain that is the catalyst to growth. I know myself well enough to know that usually it takes something that stings to get my attention. Let’s just say that this week got my attention.
My first response in these types of situations is usually quiet (but strong) anger and self-justification. “They had no right to say that, they have no idea what is really going on in the situation.” Or “they just want church to make them feel good, they don’t seem to get the fact that God is challenging them toward a different way of thinking or living.” I stew in that for a while, but then (most times) I remember those wise words that “…bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.” Right. Anger and self-justification are not where I need to be spending my time.
What follows this is the “hurt” stage, where I sit back and just wallow in sadness because so much of what I want in life is for people to like me and appreciate what I do. I am not alone here, I think many of us want this type of affirmation. Thomas Keating writes that one of the basic human needs is for esteem and affection. We all feel and want that. He also writes that this desire can become a problem when it moves from a need to an obsession, when we think that we have to have that esteem and affection in order to be happy. That type of thinking leads people to structure their whole lives trying to find fulfillment in other’s perceptions of them. It’s a subtle form of idolatry propped up by doing good things that people like. We feel the loss when our idol doesn’t seem to work for us. Often it’s the pain of not measuring up that becomes the gift allowing us to refocus and reframe our identity to God’s love for us instead of other’s opinions.
What I have found usually helps me move on from these early stages to something more productive and healthy are the relationships of others who love me. Thank God that has happened this week as well. As usual, my wife has encouraged and supported me, and coffee with a good friend and fellow pastor today helped me remember that all I can do is seek to be faithful to what God is leading me into. Those tangible people and meaningful conversations brought some life back into a painful place. Then tonight, as I was looking through an old journal I came across a prayer written by Teresa of Avila. (1515-1582) The Spanish version in her own script is in the picture below the English translation. These are good and wise words. Words that allow God to transform pain that I feel into a trust that He is still at work in me, and in those around me, and that He will not fail. I am thankful for my wife, my friend, and for a nun from the 1500’s who help bring clarity to difficult weeks.