thegoodenoughpastor

Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Struggles”

Wrestling with Loss, Pain and Faith

I’ve been talking to a guy who recently experienced a significant loss in his life. A close family member died at a very young age. He’s struggling coming to terms with his loss, his sense of powerlessness when it comes to death, and questions about God’s involvement with this death. He’s convinced that God is testing him  to see how much pain and discomfort he can tolerate.

I’ve struggled with knowing how to respond to his questions and his pain. I don’t share his beliefs about God pushing him to the limit, but I’m taking  it slow as far as challenging his assumptions. If I were in his shoes, I have no idea how I might struggle with my faith. Pain has a way of distorting our thinking when it’s raw and fiery.

I have to admit that I was a bit relieved when our last conversation ended–relieved that once we parted I could go back to the comfort of being insulated from first-hand pain. I returned to the safety of my own theology. While I genuinely hurt for him, I needed to create emotional and theological space.

I noticed some weariness in my soul as he left. I was thankful for the distance.

That all changed the next afternoon. While relaxing after Sunday church, I got a phone call from our oldest son. I could tell immediately something was not right. His got straight to the point. “Something bad happened. We lost Juan. He’s no longer with us,” he said.

Juan was one of my son’s best friends. Just two weeks earlier, Juan was in our home as he served as a groomsman in my son’s wedding. We all immediately fell in love with him. We instantly recognized the qualities and personality strengths in Juan that our son had told us so much about. We celebrated and laughed with Juan. His smile exuded the generous spirit he possessed.

And now, just as suddenly, he was gone. A freak car accident–one that seems so random and senseless–claimed his life.

I grieve for my own sense of loss, even though I only got to meet Juan briefly. But much more, I grieve for my son and his new wife. They lost a dear, dear friend. The impact and implications of their loss is only just beginning to hit them. There will be layers that will unfold over time.

Hearing the pain in my son’s voice over the phone was nearly unbearable. It still torments me.

The wrestling of questions that my friend expressed are now my own.

I find myself resonating with Mary and Martha as they conversed with Jesus after their brother, Lazarus, died. The first thing out of their mouths was, “Lord if You had been here, our brother would not have died.”

My version is, “I know you care Jesus, but couldn’t you have prevented that accident? Would it have really been that difficult to alter Juan’s timing just a few seconds so that he could still be with us? So my son and his wife (and all of Juan’s family and friends) wouldn’t be suffering now? And what about my friend’s daughter? You could have kept her alive, too.”

At this point, I join with my son in saying, “It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t make sense.”

I do find some comfort and strength in Jesus’ response to Mary and Martha. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus emphasized to the grieving sisters that this resurrection isn’t some far-off idea. He is the resurrection and the life right now, in the present moment.

While that encourages me, I am a bit envious of the sisters’ experience. Jesus acted right then and there in bringing Lazarus back to life. They got immediate relief.

We’re left to wait and to struggle with our faith and what it means for us that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, now, while we still have funerals to go to. While we have empty places in our lives. While we have children who are experiencing immense pain.

Getting a Taste of My Own Medicine

Have you ever had a sermon or message come home to roost? You know, what you preach to others gets reflected back on you, forcing you to prove whether you really believe it or not.

I had such a moment this week.

I presented a seminar on marriage for our church this past weekend. I was excited. I’d presented it before and received enthusiastic feedback. I reviewed my notes, and then reviewed them again. A slick power-point, humorous video clip, diagrams and models, strong theoretical basis, life application and anecdotes, good refreshments–all the bases were covered.

I anticipated a slam dunk.

But from the get-go, I felt like I was running in quick sand. I didn’t sense the energy and engagement with my audience that create synergy and magic. Reading facial expressions made me unsure if my concepts were connecting. It reminded me of times while preaching when the sermon would sort of tumble off the pulpit and plop to the floor, dead, before reaching the front row.

My anxiety began working me over. Pressure began building down in my gut. It must have risen to the top and affected my brain because I became time confused. Knowing 6:00 was our cut-off time, I was aghast that the clock already read 5:30. I still had a good hour’s worth of material to cover.

I sped through my outline, summarizing and condensing as I went. I shelved  key illustrations and discussion questions. I didn’t even give them a bathroom break in the interest of saving time. I wrapped up and closed things down at 6:05. A little long, but at least I was in the ballpark.

How could I mess things up like this? My inner critic began warming its engine.

When the last of the couples left, I told my wife we had to hurry to get to our next engagement by 7:00.

“Why?” she said, “we still have over an hour to get there.”

“What? It’s already 6:30,” I replied.

“No, it’s not. It’s only 5:30,” she countered.

I looked again at the clock. She was right. I’d misread the clock and cheated myself and my crowd out of a solid hour. All my rushing and editing were for nothing.

My inner critic kicked into high gear.

For the next 24 hours, self-denigrating thoughts flooded my mind. “You stink at presentations. Quit trying to fool yourself in thinking that you can communicate effectively to groups of people. You’re a loser. No one wants to listen to you. You have no future in ministry. Give up the dream–it’s just wishful thinking anyway. You’re a failure and this is just another confirmation of that. Go get a job at WalMart.”

Was I good enough? I certainly didn’t feel like it.

I slowly fought my way through the shaming. I don’t hold out my process as a formula for all, but here’s how it worked for me.

For starters, I recognized I had a choice to make. Which story about myself would I choose to believe? I could stay loyal to the message of self-loathing. Many of us are fiercely loyal to that story. Or, I could cling to the story God tells about me. He is resolute in bestowing worth and value and acceptance. Jesus certainly wouldn’t be saying the kinds of things my mind was repeating.

Second, I opened myself to hear from others. I get myself in trouble if the only voice I’m listening to is the criticism of my own shame. I shared my angst with my wife and a few trusted friends. They told a different story about me as well.

I also asked God for help. I needed a word of encouragement, a shot of confidence. I received several  emails throughout the day from attendees saying how helpful the information was. One guy reported that he and his wife were able to get back on track with their communication.

Finally, I realized one of the driving forces of my disappointment. I had become strongly invested in impressing my audience. I particularly hoped to wow a select few of the attendees. My ego and validation were riding on it. When I perceived I shot a dud, my fragile self-esteem crashed. I needed to repent and center myself again on Who my audience is and on what foundation my core sense of self rests.

To live in the freedom of being good enough, all those elements seem necessary. By the way, if you’re interested in having me present the seminar for your group, let me know. I promise to watch the clock.

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