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How do you write about yourself?

For a vocation that is supposed to require me to minister to hurting people, I am also required to do an enormous amount of self-reflection. And as a result I am now writing about myself, writing about myself.

I was asked to write a personal mythology. Because the word mythology is used, I’m writing about myself in the third person for the assignment.

The assignment did not specify for me to write in third person, but I am choosing to because I write too much about myself outside of my job. So I thought as a creative exercise I would try to step back and summarize my life in less than three pages by stepping outside of myself.

I wouldn’t say it is challenging , but I will say its tiring. It’s tiring because I spend so much time visiting my past trying to work through it and workshop it, only to keep realizing I can’t change it. I wonder what God thinks when we keep revisiting old things. I wonder what people are like who never have time to revisit the past and are solely fixed on their future.

I want to be that way, but I don’t think the process I have signed up for will let me.

For me, life is not laid out in stages of boxes that I can check, only to never look at again. Even if the seasons have past, the experiences and lack of answers seem to keep looking for closure. Which, I think is what death is about.depositphotos_2189599-stock-photo-dying-sunflower

Scripture says in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

One of  my goals for the first 3 months of this residency is to be comfortable with things that die, specifically become comfortable being in the room with death.

Why?

Well in part simply because I have to. I don’t think I can work day in and day out and once a week overnight at a hospital as a chaplain and avoid encountering this. But my goal is more than encountering it which is inevitable; my goal is to become okay with it while maintaining the confidence in Christ that it is not the end.

I want to become okay with it because notice what the Scripture says, “unless the gran falls in to the earth and dies; it remains alone.” Doesn’t that portion of statement fascinate you? I don’t want to be alone. I don’t even want to be alone in my apartment (Just get a cat already).

Jesus is announcing that there is so much in my life, in my desire, even in my “innocence”, in this world that must be subjected to a dying, in order to bear much fruit. In order for me to find life and love and genuine friendship and fullness of life, I like Jesus, must enter that fullness of life through death.

Well that’s nice, but what in heaven does it mean when a Christian says some whacked out jargon, “die to yourself,” “be dead to sin.” Because in theory I get it, but if something dies, isn’t their finality? Isn’t their loss? Isn’t their ending? If I have died to something how in the world does the pain, the sin, the stubborn refusal keep coming back? Butterfly-Life-Cycle_Christina-Whitefull

Does the apostle Paul really mean it when he says he dies daily and exhorts us to do the same? Unfortunately, yes, it means I have to suffer loss and ending, and taking the life out of the things that would otherwise kill my love for God and others.

You and I must do this daily with our greatest temptations and fears because the life available on the other side is far more abundant. I know this in part from experience, but I also know because of this internal hope that has gripped me. There must be something better than the fading false promises of the temporal.

The temporal just can’t be it because Scripture also declares that God has set eternity within our hearts. That is why the closer we get to death, the more aware we should become of the eternal but also the present.

How does any of this help you or I write about ourselves?

I think it simply helps us to write or tell our stories with hope. When you have surrendered the false myth that death leaves a permanent sting, I think we are free to embrace with confidence the promise of life through Christ to give us and others something worth reading and remembering.

Then once you write about yourself have the courage to let others read you. You might give them courage to find fullness of life and the courage to let something die that needs to so it doesn’t remain alone.

When the Game Slows Down

My orientation into chaplaincy has begun. Who knew orientation could feel so disorienting? While inundated with information, it is amazing how many golden nuggets of truth and wisdom I have received in a weeks time. One statement I am fixated on, even though I have not  yet visited a single patient is this: “The game will slow down.”

It was an analogy for perceiving and understanding the dynamics of a room whether it be just a patient or an entire family is present when ministering in the hospital.

I felt this analogy helpful even though I am not particularly excellent at any one particular sport. I do feel like I have the mental capacity to comprehend what the chaplain who shared this meant as it relates to me in the sports of soccer, wrestling, and racquetball.

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The gist of the statement: “the game will slow down” pertains to our mastery of craft or vocation or even hobby. It has relatively nothing to do with ease as much as it has to do with familiarity with yourself in a given situation.

In other words a sport might become exceedingly more difficult based on who your opponent is, but the confidence you have in your ability or in the case of chaplaincy, the confidence of God at work through my availability should not be shook by the difficulty of the task in front of me.

And because I am not shook I can perceive. Or to say it another way, I can evaluate the circumstances of those I will minister to without becoming so introspective about whether or not I am capable.

And while I entirely understand this, I am reminded of something that happens to me whether it be in soccer, racquetball, and when I was training as a wrestler (never when I performed). Inevitably, these moments would come, often expected, in which my resolve would gas out completely in the middle of competition mode.

It is not through reaching a limit of physical exertion as much as I hit the wall of mental distraction. I become so preoccupied with something other than that in which I am competing only to get bogged down by this other area of life that makes me feel incapable.

I can talk about it because it has happened often enough in the past that it feels so real as I write. Sometimes I could be fully engaged in a game and then an idle thought about failed interpersonal relationships or fear of performance in another area of life has now  interrupted my current activity.

And the game in which moments before I felt extremely capable and in control has now become secondary to the internal mental crisis that chose to interrupt me.

And now for the why I am writing about this.

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I am writing to point to God, perhaps as to how he might view this program we’ve got going on down here. Not that God or we should equate life to a game by any means, but God is watching this thing unfold in slow-mo. In His infinite patience, God gives us time and space to learn to relate through the reconciliation purchased by Jesus Christ.

And some of us are so obstinate to the greatest offer we could ever receive while breathing: unrestricted access to the throne of God.

But if the games end is standing before that throne, which sadly I think many professing Christians often forget or maybe some have entirely abandoned, then I’m endeavoring to stand before that throne faithful.

And however slow it may take to attain it, in Christ’s mercy, may I attain.

Tying the Knot

I took a massive step yesterday. It actually turned out that taking the step wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be and will benefit me greatly into the future.

I tied the knot, specifically I perfected the Windsor knot with a tie. I tied every tie I own with the Windsor knot so it is one less thing I will have to do in the morning before work. I hope this doesn’t ruin the ties.

I know next to nothing about ties or dressing up or when a shirt crosses over into too wrinkled to be presentable. I normally wouldn’t wear a tie at all, but I’m just not sure wearing a full suit everyday as a chaplain is really helpful.

It’s actually quite fascinating how important aesthetic is when presenting yourself as a minister in a hospital. I only have theories because I have not started yet, but it makes total sense to me. I’m walking into someone’s hospital room at a vulnerable and sometimes scary time. It’s only natural that the person they want coming in to talk to them and pray for them looks like they made a natural effort to look “good” when they got up in the morning.

It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching were he tells his followers when you fast, wash your face. Don’t look miserable when ministering to God or people. Even if you are miserable at least try not to look like it. I think Jesus does this, because even though Jesus wasn’t gorgeous in a GQ sense he knew how to cast a good look.

Not to lessen the crucifixion but as Jesus is dying, mostly naked, bloody, dehydrated, he calls out to John another apostle and says, “take care of my mom.” What a good look on Jesus, admitting that in his present and future condition that responsibility would be better left to John.tying_the_knot_banner

I’m well aware that the title of this blog is typically indicative of marriage which is why I also will write about that as well. I’m halfway through the best marriage book I’ve read, “The Meaning of Marriage,” by Tim Keller. It’s been a great read honestly. I took about a 3 year hiatus from marriage books unless you count the Five Love Languages which I count as a love book and a learning about myself book.

I love the book for its vision of spiritual friendship and the goal of marriage to help make us ourselves and our spouse look more like Jesus. It’s simple in one way because that is really the Christian’s goal in everything, so Tim Keller: “I like your book but you’re not saying anything revolutionary or new. But I’ll give you credit, your reminder is revolutionary for me.”

I think the book has diagnosed and articulated what I’m looking for and what I’m aiming to be. It has been a nice reminder that there is no rush (I say that and have not even read the chapter on singleness).  Despite there being no rush, I think an urgency of desire can be healthy. It can make me the type of person that prays and makes pure and whole choices during my singleness.

But then again I think this entire move has an urgency of desire. I feel like during this week of no urgent responsibility has marked boldly, characteristics that I should not deny.  Here are some of the knots in my personality that I think cannot be untied:

  • I like and need people way too much to spend too much time alone. I get no energy from being alone for long periods of time.
  • I thrive in structure. I did not want to admit this about myself. Part of me feels like I want to be a writer who dictates their own schedule and keep his own deadlines, but it’s just not so. I’ve known I’m not a self-starter and I’m too artistic to really discipline myself. (This is why I seem to have multiple friends now checking in on my diet and fitness although my Mom says I’m doing just fine)
  • I like the water, I think I would like to go to the pool or ocean, everyday  if I have time.
  • I can spend a lot of money on entertainment and food, but I also am capable of spending no money on any of it. Hopefully, starting on Monday I make a few necessary cut backs (For example I spent money to get a bike fixed. I haven’t ridden a bike in at least 4 years, maybe 7, will I this year? Who knows?)
  • I love listening and talking one on one with people. I really can’t help myself. Sometimes I can do a group of 3 or 4 and still be engaged and love it but beyond that I lose focus.

That’s all for now. I will have too much to write about and think about next week when I start work.

Saint Listener and Hearing Different

If you are looking for a good cry, I would suggest seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the new Mr. Rogers documentary.

If you’ve been wanting to feel like you’re endeavor to love and to be a compassionate human being falls far short of perfection, I’d also suggest watching the movie.

What I found most amazing about the film itself, was how the director managed to make the movie feel like it was listening to me, as I watched. The movie feels like it wants to draw real identity out of the viewer while withholding judgment.

And through viewing the film, I felt both extremely inadequate yet aware of the essentials of feeling known in any given relationship.

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The essential component is listening, it’s always been that. Waiting or giving pause before you give an answer or assuming I know better has consistently been more effective than rushing to a conclusion.

This also is my dilemma as of late. I’m afraid to listen to God because I’m afraid it will require much time only to lead to a painful answer. And as I am prone, I’d rather just take the pain than hear the answer. Because the answer or direction of God is  unchangeable whereas I have this enduring sense that I can get used to the pain.

But it is not the way of God to keep us in pain. It is not the way of God to extend our suffering unnecessarily. He would rather us joyful in loving obedience than wallow in unwarranted suffering.

Yet this is what humanity, as well as myself, frequently chooses. And more frequently, we choose this by assuming the worst in others without understanding them. We also assume the worst in ourselves without hearing God’s perspective on reconciliation and comfort. We are prone to ignore desperation and are hesitant to relieve another’s burden. We want people to get what they deserve before we actually know if they really deserve it.

Whereas Jesus wants to give what we don’t deserve even when we don’t realize how much we don’t deserve it. This is the whole point of the cross and the offer of resurrection life.

Live in light of the goodness and generosity of God.

But this burns us.

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It’s unfamiliar to be in that bright. It’s both freeing yet scary to live that vulnerably. To live completely unshackled or unhindered is easy until we remember our own wounds. Then we succumb to  moments where we hear the wrong voices, the lies and perhaps even our own self-destructive opinions of ourselves.

And then this leads to our “lacking in confidence” choices or simply our indecision. We paralyze ourselves or harm ourselves or harm others and we spread the wounds rather than relieving them. Healing hands rush to the side but are cautious yet gentle to the touch.

Urgency can lead us to the who or what but patience must check us before we assume we know what the problem is. And this is my problem, slow to the who or what and then hasty to assume the problem.

I think the season and vocation I am entering into is both intentional and essential. I will be with people everyday who I will have no idea how to minister to, while trusting that Jesus has gone before me to minister to them already. I will just step into what He has already been doing.

Now to embrace that work in myself. Step into and agree to what God is already doing. I have known that God is at work in a place of depth I am unfamiliar with and because I am unfamiliar, I encounter more fear of the unknown and I’m tempted to fall back on the familiar. I hope God continues to be relentless in breaking through me because I know it is for my good.

Whether it is the difference in someone else or difference in yourself, in order to demonstrate love both to self and other, discovery is required. We must risk our time and presence in intimacy (not romantic, but sometimes necessary depending on the relationship) in order to have compassion and to enjoy the other.

The Charleston Chapter: Chaplaincy

As of this writing, I am 50 days away from moving to Charleston, South Carolina.

If that is news to you, I’m sorry I did not tell you. I’m moving, to start a chaplaincy residency, which will be my first season of full-time ministry, God-willing. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I have a decent idea of what I’ve chosen.

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I already have my apartment reserved, have made some cool friends, and found a church I really like. That all stemmed from 2 separate 48 hour visits.

In a lot of ways this post is a prelude to what I imagine will be a season of a lot of newness. It’s about what I’m expecting.

Here is a paragraph I wrote in my application packet regarding what I expect out of my next year:

“I hope to learn to be both present and immovable in faith for those going through crisis, while offering hope and encouragement. Specifically, I hope to learn how to discern in moments of crisis when to listen, when to pray, and when to advise in an environment where others are learning and listening as well. I also hope that processing these experiences in discussion with peers and supervisors within the context of Clinical Pastoral Education will provide fertile soil to grow in confidence of the ability of God to work through ministers.”

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My goal is devotion to learning and serving from a posture of listening, discerning, and willingness to act. I am excited about the opportunity I have to give my life to Jesus in this way.

But I’m also surprised in the now. I’m surprised by how often over the past 8 months that saying yes to the unknown when I’ve asked God first, has resulted in a contented normalcy regarding the adventure of following Jesus. I would highly suggest trying this out.

But it’s also weird. It’s exposed something ugly in me. It’s exposed that in the past, I’ve expected the bottom to fall out. Whether that expectation comes from circumstance or was learned I can’t wait for that part of me to completely die.

I want to live like God is always for me not waiting for a reason to knock me down. I think that mindset has caused me too often to not take fun risks or steps of faith.

I want to live like my faith in God is flowing from a vibrant relationship that is also evident to others. But even in the season it might not be evident to others I want to be the kind of man who cherishes the will and ways of God even if it hurts.

Because in this next chapter, I think that is who God is asking me to be for others. I’m hoping, I’m up to the challenge.