Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Have you ever had something in life that you do because you know you should, because you know it’s good for you? Something that you want to want to do so you do it anyway? You do it as pure discipline, hoping that you’ll gain an appreciation for it? Perhaps eating your vegetables falls into that category. You eat them hoping that you’ll eventually aquire a taste for them. Or perhaps it’s going to the gym. You go, not because you feel like it, but because you want to feel like it, each time you go building the habit until it is such a part of your life that you can’t imagine not going.

Right now, for me, that thing is going to church. I know it’s important. I know how much it has meant to me in the past. I know all the reasons that I would tell someone else that it’s important but right now I just don’t feel like it.

One - but not the only one- of the reasons that I quit my job as children’s pastor of our church was that, in all of my 'working in a church,' I missed church. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the kids that I worked with. I loved the learning I did through preparing lessons and other teaching. I loved being able to see God at work in the lives of those I was directly involved in. I really enjoyed what I was able to give BUT I missed feeling like I was a part of a church. For months, I would get to the building before anyone else got there, go straight to the kids’ area, set up, hang out with the kids while sharing the message with them for the day and then pack up. I missed most, if not all, of the reasons that I would encourage someone else to go to church and I began to feel empty and alone. When it became clear that there was no respite for that routine, no opportunity for me to be a part of the community I was working for, I knew that I couldn’t continue that pattern and maintain any kind of spiritual health.

So here’s the kicker: since then I haven’t wanted to go to church and for a while I didn’t. I didn’t feel like it. If I’m honest, I also didn’t – and still don’t - feel like doing many of the other things that I know I should and could to foster my relationship with Jesus. It was too much. Too much hurt, too much emptiness, too much exhaustion, too much confusion, too much brokenness, too much failure, too much defeat, too much [felt] need for space and far too many other emotions that I couldn’t even begin to describe or define. It was all too much.

But where do you go when it all feels too much? Well, if you love Jesus (and sometimes if you don’t!) you go to church and so Colin and I began cautiously attending. For me it was something I wanted to want to do. I was hesitant, afraid and non-committal.  Do you remember the old TV show “Cheers,” with the theme song that rang out “sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name?” Well, I wanted the complete opposite. I wanted to go and absorb, be encouraged, hear the Word of God preached and, for the first time in a long time just go somewhere to be fed instead of pour out to others.

At first it worked that way. Colin and I have found a place where we feel we could be at home. There’s enough going on that when we’re ready, we feel we could get involved. We feel confident with what we have seen to be the mission and values of the church as they seem to be lived out and supported by the things the people are involved in. We appreciate the senior pastor and the depth to which he preaches the Word – its exciting to see how much he uses the Word in his messages and the amount of study he obviously does to truly teach. He shares the pulpit with his staff and they too seem to share his desire to truly teach and encourage through God’s word.

Lately, though, I’ve been in a dark, ugly funk and it seems like going to church shines a big beacon on my feelings of lament. I’ve described it as feeling like my faith is small but that’s not the truth of it. I don’t doubt that God is real, alive and active but I feel empty and far away and…something. The last several weeks have been very much about going because I want to want to. The last two weeks, however, have been nearly unbearable but have helped me find some words for what’s going on inside my heart and, perhaps, that’s the discipline of it doing it’s work, providing what I needed.

It began two weeks ago with the Chris Tomlin song “Your Grace is Enough,” a song that has been the anthem of many points of my faith over the last couple of years. The chorus shouts out:

            Your grace is enough,
            Your grace is enough,
            Your grace is enough for me. 

I started to sing it out with a gusto I wasn’t feeling but slowly petered out. The inward thoughts didn’t seem to be connecting with the words of my mouth. At first, the prayer was, “Your grace is enough” then became “I want your grace to be enough” and finally, “where is your grace?”

“Where is your grace and what does it look like?”

Each prayer became a little more indignant and little bit angrier than the one before.

What does it look like in my career? What does it look like when the past and the present collide? What does it look like in the day to day? What does it look like in my health? What does it look like in finances and friendships and faith?

Where is your grace?

The next song was like the first in the emotions it dug up. “Beautiful Things” by Gungor. We played it at our wedding, recognizing that God takes messy, ugly things – he steps into the mess – and makes beautiful things. Again, the prayer became a lament: “I know you can do beautiful things so can you? Would you? Please?”

The tears rolled, the emotions crashed and the questions raged but still there were no answers. The week went by with the same funk and more reasons to question.

This past weekend found us in the second week of advent, anticipating the presence of the coming King. The celebration, the smiles of everyone around, the joy, the songs all combined together until I felt claustrophobic, to the point of being physically ill.  The people around me were singing “O come, O Come Emmanuel,” hands raised in praise and thankfulness, and all I could think is “where are you?” The message was about the angel coming to Mary with the incredible pronouncement – you will be the mother of the Song of God – and her willing, grateful, humble acceptance. We talked about responding and about experiencing the presence of Jesus. All I could think is “where are you?” getting angrier and more frustrated and feeling more guilt about my anger.

But in that, I realized something. I’m angry. I’m angry at people and at situations. I’m angry at feeling like I don’t have control over so much. I’m angry that at a time in my life when I should be feeling joy and excitement, I’m feeling such a funk and frustrated that I can’t be better for my new husband (who, by the way, has been incredible through all of my searching and sorting…he’s my good gift and helps me believe, in it all, that God is good).  I’m angry at work. I’m angry at all these happy people (or at least seemingly happy people) standing around me, unaware of the emotions in me and angry that I feel like I’ve lost the happy person. I’m angry that I can’t seem to find joy. I'm angry at all of the reasons I don't feel like I'm enough. I’m angry that in it all, I don’t feel God like I have at so many times. While I know it’s irrational and not in the character of God, I feel like he’s stepped away from me…like he could make some of these things better or at least make the way forward clearer and yet hasn’t.

I’ve chosen this week – perhaps since I’ve finally been able to give words to at least a piece of how I feel – to actually enter into the lament and not be afraid of it. Somehow, even in that place, I choose to believe that God has met me, placing the stories of David on my heart. King David. A man after God’s own heart and writer of some of the most prolific poetry in history was a man who lamented. He, too, was angry with God and prayed some of the same prayers I have in the last couple weeks. “Where are you?” and “Why have you abandoned me?” are prayers that slipped off the lips of this shepherd turned king. It helps to know that the Bible has room for lament and that those “heroes” of the faith allowed the stuff of life to bring them to some dark places. It helps, too, to know that God heard them and met them there, bringing them out the other side in real, tangible ways. Somehow it helps.

I’ve thought about writing bits and pieces of this down for a while, hoping that putting it down in black and white would help me sort out what was going on and give me some freedom from it. I’ve thought about how I would describe how I feel – words like defeated and depleted have come to mind. A more apt description, I think, would be deflated. I feel deflated, like a balloon that was once blown up and full and has taken shape but has had the air let out. Know what that looks like? It doesn’t look like the balloon that was originally taken out of the package, solid and strong and full of promise. It’s soggy and gross, flat and wrinkled and, truthfully, a little sad. As I think about David and his story (and so many others who have hit this kind of spot for any number of reasons), I feel like I can add to the analogy. That original balloon, the one with all the promise and excitement, blows up into something fun. That soggy, deflated balloon? Fill it up and it will look as good as before. It will resume the shape it had before.

So today I still feel the funk and I still feel the tears threatening but at least today I know I’m not alone. I might not feel hopeful but I can choose to be hopeful. I want to want to. There’s discipline in this too, in remembering the stories of David and choosing to believe that perhaps God is not as far away as it feels, that perhaps this deflated balloon can be blown up again.

1 comment:

Penny said...

Through all of the years growing up it has been obvious that we don't share the same views on religion but I want you to know that I am always here to listen if you need to talk.

I understand all to well the feeling of being deflated and angry and I too am trying to overcome this but please know I love you and I believe you are one of the strongest women I know and if you ever need a shoulder I am always here.