Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Back in the fall, something happened that I could not file away.  It was an extremely disconcerting experience.  I was in a public building and someone I knew walked into that building.  She glanced at me, and then turned away and ignored me. Granted, on catching sight of her, I got that fluttery feeling around my heart and glanced down to avoid making eye contact just then. I felt the need to steady myself before making contact. But when I was finished with my task, I meant to try to make eye contact, even though I was nervous.

The conflict between us was as slippery as water and had never been contained in a conversation.  There was a time when we celebrated life together and shared a profound bond. That was over. She looked away and averted her gaze while I passed her.  Unable to make a connection, I walked out, yielding to her strategy since I couldn't employ my own plan to just be shallowly pleasant.  The sunlight outside the building blinded me temporarily, but the glaring awkwardness left me confused for months.

Finally, I was able to dissect why it had me awake at nights.  This person and I live mere miles from one another, raising families, living our lives, professing to follow Jesus and his ways.  But being a follower of Jesus seemed to have nothing to do with this conflict.  It seemed to have nothing to do with the way I interacted with my day.  It seemed to have nothing to do with the dynamic of how we are as a family.  And it wasn't just me. I thought back on churches we had been a part of and remembered the acrid experience of conflict with people that were some of the meanest SOBs I've ever encountered.  People in the church where I grew up who became more dreadful as the years went by, not more gracious.  I expanded my recollections to dozens of "Christian" marriages tanked. Kids from "good Christian homes"  grown up to be anchor-less people. Money problems ensnared more than I could count.  And the worst....the people who were pathetically fragmented "giving God all the glory" for lives that were ridiculously empty.

I was engulfed in a cloud of profound doubt in this thing that I had literally given my life to.  Thirteen years in private Christian school. Four years of Bible college.  14 years of full time ministry.  Starting a church from scratch so that it wouldn't have the problems of an old church. All that so I could politely hope I didn't see Somebody in the grocery store?

"It doesn't work."  I found myself thinking. 

More accurately, it wasn't so much that it didn't work...."Maybe it really is just something that gets people through the day." I thought. It just didn't make enough difference.

My doubt was completely unwieldy.  I had never ever doubted my faith before. I literally contemplated what it would look like to just give it all up but decided it was too much trouble to throw it all out and start over, especially in light of...you know...my husband being my pastor.  Like avoiding a decorating project, I decided it was just too big to tackle. I told Robb that it felt as though I was sitting in front of a huge wall that I could not pass.  Unable to even guess what to do about it, I pictured myself lying down next the wall and taking a nap.

It was about this time that we began our small group of the leaders for the spring small groups at church. I had read most of the book already at the end of the summer, but I never actually finished it.  I was impressed by it, but it was easy to push aside in my preparations for the War Eagle craft show.  .

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero has proven to be a way for me to find a path through the strange spiritual landscape I found myself in.  Consistent with my previous experiences, reading the book as a group greatly intensified the experience.  The last 12 weeks have been a fork in my journey.  The book helped me voice my doubt.  It also helped me understand the value of doubting my faith in the first place.  Chapter one deals with the problem of emotionally unhealthy spirituality;  my observations about Christians I had known over the years...and worse...the kind of "Christian" I was becoming....found expression there.

I have struggled too, to know where this blog fits in my life anymore. My lack of posting is evidence that I wasn't sure what the purpose was anymore. My need for it has changed in most ways. As I move towards being a whole person, I know now that this is where my soul and my work touch. I am not just a disembodied spirit, too holy for everyday life, nor am I just a drone, a worker bee.  I am a creative soul reflective of a creative God and I look forward to blogging my soul out.


Jess said...

I like this post - obviously. I was just confessing to Ben that there is always an undercurrent of doubt in my own life. Something that thinks this is just how I have to live because without the boundaries of the Christian "way" I would die. I have to believe in order to live, but there are real parts of me that seem untransformed by God.

It comes out of the closet when we have big decisions to make. We were recently talking about having another baby and the real reason I can't go forward is because some part of me thinks I'm in this totally alone and that despite the Bible saying children are a blessing, despite the probability that the Christian worldview and my community will help me process whatever happens - be it a child with special needs or whatever - God is not there.

I'm maxed out with what I can handle without there really being a supernatural, all powerful God. (Even as I say this I think God must be laughing or ticked off at how little I'm actually "handling" myself).

Anyway, that means my obedience stems from fear and need and my love is part guilt mixed with desperation. Well, that felt good. :)

Sincerely, your friend in full time ministry. :)

ness said...

The baby thing was definitely a conversation that came up in this context for us too. For us, it came under the heading of being human and limited, though. We decided that although we always wanted four children, we accepted that being human means that you don't always get everything you want and you don't always accomplish everything. Life will end and I will not have finished everything I set out to do. There was something very freeing about that....I still can't quite put my finger on why.

I guess it is because we are typically incited to be amazing Christians with amazing faith that causes us to take on amazing feats...like having another baby that we are not sure we have the energy, strength or means for...believing God will reward us for our great faith..hope...daring...sometimes even recklessness? Being ok with not being "super Christian" but just maybe "nameless, invisible Christian that God still works through" is not nearly as worthy to aspire to...but perhaps takes an greater faith? One that is serene about our humanity and His divinity.

Doubt is a friend that helps us clarify the difference between real faith and mere bravado.

Burchie said...

As another full timer, or 'lifer' as I refer to it, b/c I was a PK also, You have hit the nail on the head, Ness and Jess... I love that doubt is a God given emotion/tool just like joy or anger.
I was profoundly changed by EHS. Honesty about who I really was, and who I was hoping people would perceive me to be was the first thing that I knew I had to stop(example: not being super organized at home, I was always telling people that came through my door the circumstances under which my otherwise perfect home came to land in it's current state of chaos, none of which would have anything to do with me just being plain lazy in my 'alone moments')After that, the harder, inner stuff seemed easier to take apart, one at time, for a deep examination unlike anything I had experienced or had been called to do as a believer. It is very freeing to say when asked if we are going to try for a girl(having 3 boys this is a question I am asked frequently) No, I know that 3 is my limit as a 'human'(to borrow your word) and that if I was meant to be the mother of a girl, I would have one. God has always known my limits just as I am coming to grips with SOME of them in my approach to middle age(aaaah!) I am no longer afraid to admit that there are limits, something my mother modeled for me well.(she would always tell a new church 'i don't sing, play the piano or work in the nursery'... but she always led and still is leading SS classes for single mothers and divorced older women, and back in the day the church was not a friendly place for this group of people)
I am highly encouraged by your honesty, Ness... looking forward to more posts... love ya!


Whew! I was afraid you were going to say that you were giving up blogging! Please, please never stop!

Speaking from the other side of 40 (actually, 45 next month), I wish I'd had more children. A baby is always a blessing no matter the timing. I've been trying to have baby #4 for 2 1/2 years now. Guess it's not going to happen. Be sure to have them while you still can and don't let the unimportant things get in the way of the REALLY important things!

Mrs. V said...

is this a conspiracy?

ness said...

I would like to put it out there that we would love to adopt again....

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