Monday, January 28, 2008

The Cure For My Stinky Soul

I'm in the middle of some kind of season, for sure. Usually, the lull after the Christmas holidays finds me pretty content, happily catching up and reorganizing my thoughts and surroundings.

But work - and the continued activities of the kids as they get older - have really put a hitch in my days of relaxation and organization. I have always been extremely flexible, and not too obsessed with cleaning or tidiness. However, lately I feel suffocated and trapped by the sheer amount of Stuff in the house that is out of place, out of order, dirty or just generally needing attention. The house, in a word, is trashed.

I just feel swamped.

And I've not been coping too well.

I have learned, fortunately, to recognize the signs a bit earlier than I once did, and to identify the problem and search for a solution before my coping mechanisms move towards the dangerous or detrimental.

In the midst of all of last week's activities, I realized how busy I was - and yet, with all that was going on, I was also feeling pretty good about myself. Strange contradiction, I know, but bear with me. The tragic death of my friend's father led us to play music for the funeral on Wednesday. In the midst of this sorrow, we provided some amazingly beautiful music. I know that those present were blessed. My friends who sang and played guitar are gifted, and together we crafted something to help those who were grieving in that moment.

It felt good to be needed, and to do something in front of others. One thing about funerals, though: unless you are in a traditional funeral home, where they put the musicians behind a curtain, it's a pretty stark place to play. I did all of the pre-service music alone, which consisted of 40 minutes of piano improvisation. I pulled from familiar hymns that would be comforting to the audience of small town, rural farm folks. I enjoyed playing - but in a church, with the open casket in front of me as I sat at the piano, it's a little disconcerting to feel all eyes me. At a funeral, especially one where the death was sudden and unexpected, people don't visit much before the service starts. They tend to sit quietly, avoid looking at the body in the casket, and - in my experience - stare at the pianist, because there's not much else to look at. It was nerve-wracking. Although I am comfortable on a stage, this felt way too vulnerable. I'm not as secure as I think I am.

We went on from that to a small mini-conference of about 90 folks. Our 'Innovative Church Network' seeks to connect folks who are trying to negotiate the culture as it changes and intersects with the church. We heard from a terrific speaker who shared about 'Serving Values'. Having heard her before when she came to our church specifically, I had already implemented a lot of her ideas on my arts team. They work - they are hard-line, focused on accountability, unity and full-blown commitment to God (not much wrong with that, eh?). As we dialogued later in our breakout groups, it was easy for me to share what I'd learned and experienced. And as I did so, I kept thinking how good it felt to be the one in the group who looked like she had it all together. I felt like I was really all that. Other churches, arts leaders, worship pastors - they were struggling with musicians who didn't come to rehearsal, bad vocalists, etc. Me? I have this awesome, commited, large team. We do killer, innovative services. We got it going on.

It felt good.

(Can you smell my ego yet?)

And I went from there to a gathering of folks trying to start a new church in a county about 30 miles from our own. They have asked us to mentor them, to help out - they envision something that looks like what God has built here through our church, and for sure they want the quick numerical success that we have seen. They seem a bit stuck in their forward motion, due to reasons I don't quite comprehend. But when it comes to service planning, building a music team, I found myself declaring, with confidence, all I thought was necessary and needed. There is a lack of vision that will decimate this dream before it begins, and I stressed the importance of coordinating the vision before moving forward. I talked, a lot, and passionately.

If felt good. I felt important.

On top of that, our church is enjoying a season of massive growth. Services have been powerful, inventive, creative, with dead-on music and sharp messages. Attendance is steadily increasing, with more and more visitors checking us out and inviting friends when they return. People's lives are changing - one of several notes I read recently said, "Thank you for creating a church that I want to be a part of. It is making a difference in my life and for my family." We're talking about adding staff. We're building. People are supportive. (If you care, you can read more here.)
So. It feels good.

But something was wrong, something inside of my soul. Too much 'feeling good'. My continuing hormonal challenges made the entire week a challenge, along with sheer busy-ness, but there was a different thing nudging me. Something I could not readily identify - but it felt viral, like a small illness. Insidious.

Sunday morning, as I got ready to leave, I knew I had to do something before I led worship. My standard, "Lord, this day is yours. Move through me...." prayer didn't seem sufficient.

I got on my knees on my bathroom floor - my dirty, needs-to-be-mopped bathroom floor. Honestly, I don't pray on my knees much, but I felt stuck. I had to do something. Something different.

I asked God to forgive me for being so full of myself, for thinking myself so high and mighty. For allowing my ego to get so inflated. For thinking I was all that.
I said that I was struggling, that I couldn't say why or what was going on. That I didn't know how to fix it.

"Jesus, please forgive me for thinking I am so special."

And then...

There are times in my life when I know that God is literally speaking to me. This morning, it could not have been clearer.

Jesus spoke to me. I saw his face in front of my own, as best I understand what his face to look like. And the condemnation that my human nature has come to expect - the chastising reminder to 'humble yourself', 'pride goeth before a fall', 'you are SO full of yourself' - none of that came. My plea for forgiveness was answered quite simply, and in my soul I saw the face and felt the heart of God quite clearly as he replied.

"You are special. To me."

And from that, I extrapolate this: because I am special to the one in whom I place faith, I don't have to get so stressed over how special anybody else thinks I am. I can just let all that go. Sure, my ego got away from me - though I don't think I did anybody else any harm. I just beat myself up because I knew my soul was getting stinky. But it's a slippery slope, and dangerous and rocky road when your focus and your worth comes from all the good you think you are doing in your own little corner of the world. Been there, done that. Don't want to be there again, for the cost is great.

Say what you will about humanity's need for religion, or how and why people believe as they do. All I can say is that the reality of my faith in Jesus continues to be lived out on a daily basis, in a way that has relevance. It matters. It is real and personal, and it heals - beyond the encouragement of friends or self-help books. Past the hormone high of exercise or the pleasure of good food or a cold Corona.

And today was a very good day.



don't eat alone said...


I understand this paradox on a very personal level. Someone said it to me this way, once (If I can remember the quote): God loves you more than you can imagine and God feels the same way about everybody else.


more cows than people said...

Wow. Thank you for visiting my way and leaving a comment. The searching reflection I find here is thought provoking and spirit stirring.

I think Roberta Bondi says something about carrying two messages, one in each pocket, and shooey... i can't remember exactly what those two messages are, but it is resonant with milton's input.

This tension also reminds me of the children's book "Old Turtle and the Broken Truth". A great one to check out.

It is o.k. to delight in the gifts that God has given in us and enjoy our lives; I'm grateful that Jesus' words to you were pure grace.

I'll be back.

Diane said...

this is a wonderful meditation and something I need to hear ... both broken and special at the same time.

annie said...

Amen! I've missed reading your reflections!