Sought in Stewards

As I've spent time struggling through my uncertainties and weaknesses, I found a strange emotion welling up in me... confidence. For some reason, I have been markedly more confident in my direction, in my life, and in my understanding of what I am to be doing with myself. Sure, life can stink... but I'm becoming more able to deal with the ugliness I see in myself. Why is this?

I've found two answers. The first is one is dependence. The weakness that is so evident in my life has caused me to become more and more dependent on what God brings to me. Rather than demanding a particular life, I have been growing in my ability to accept what God puts in front of me. That doesn't mean that I don't fight for things, like having UBC switch its service times around. Instead, it means that I'm working on being less dissatisfied with results... "results-based thinking" is, in the spiritual context, wildly seperate from God's desire for our lives.

The second is faithfulness. In my bible reading, the passage I came upon just MINUTES before I wrote this blog was 1 Corinthians 4. Paul is chastising the Corinthian church for the way that they will claim to be followers of a certain Bible teacher, and then arrogantly think that following that particular teacher makes them wiser and more spiritual than others. However, Paul says;

"One should think about us this way--as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God."

See, my weakness is real. Completely, 100% real. I really am that weak, really am that afraid, and really am that disgusted by myself. But as Paul points out, God's judgement of me won't be all that interested in those things. Instead, God wants to know whether I was faithful. It doesn't make a difference whether I was smart or dumb, forgetful or on the ball, bold as a lion or scared of my shadow. What matters is whether I sought to do what my God asked of me, and whether I communicated His Truth as clearly and as accurately as possible.

It's like giving a book report on The Adventures of Huck Finn rather than giving a speech on the future of foreign policy... the latter is something you'll always feel inadequate to do, but the former is something that can be done because it asks you to lean on someone ELSE's abilities -namely, Twain's- rather than on your own. As a Christian, God doesn't ask me to be adequate to a monstrous task... he asks me to be faithful to the truths he has already spelled out for me in His Word!

The many changes I face in my life scare me. At the same time, I'm slowly learning a greater amount of confidence as I turn away from whatever existence my weak self can scratch out, and to turn to a life that depends on the only One who is truly worthy of being trusted and depended on.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6


Embarrassed to be me

4. I am embarrassed to be me.

At least one time almost every day, I wish I was someone else. It's not just that I wish I was in someone else's circumstances, or even just that I had a different personality. It's that I wish I was in different circumstances, had a different personality, and even made different choices than I do now. Other people take majors that get better jobs. Other people are content with a faith that isn't constantly burning at the edge of their minds, a faith that doesn't consume their thoughts and interest and actions. Other people don't neglect the details that matter.

I'm not like that. Over and over, I embarrass myself or hurt people or miss out on things because I have trouble focusing. I am not very good at showing love to my wife. I am overly critical. Bills get set aside while I try to understand the correct interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. Sleep is postponed while I spend time talking with a person to help them understand a theological concept. House chores are forgotten while I delve into commentaries on Romans.

On some level, I appreciate these tendencies about myself, because I prepare well for times when theological questions need to be answered. On another level, I am embarrassed at the person I am. I feel like people laugh at me behind my back in disbelief at how irresponsible I am. I feel like my wife is constantly annoyed with me, and I'm uncomfortable every time my friends see the stupid things I do because of my strange value system. I feel like I'm losing touch in my relationships because people think I'm a failure.

It's tough, too, because it creates paranoia. I have a hard time in conducting relationships with some of my close friends because I am always worried that they think badly of me, and that they are just being polite. I want to be someone that makes them feel safe, but instead I feel that I make them feel they need to be patronizing.

My need for God becomes more apparent to me every day. Why was I put here? What can I possibly do with such oddities? Couldn't I honor You without being an absent-minded, irresponsible, forgetful, loud-mouthed, overly-opinionated, hard-bargaining jerk? Why did you burden Samantha with me? Why do you make my friends put up with me? What good can I possibly do here?

I know, of course, that these feelings are more powerful and more negative than the truth. Things are probably much more nuanced than this. The simple fact, though, is that I have been really struggling of late with being embarrassed about myself. Seeing yourself with God's eyes is really hard when you are always afraid of what other people are seeing.


Constantly Afraid

3. I am constantly afraid.

Most people I know are uncomfortable with "creepy" things. They wouldn't want to go into a haunted house, they get nervous when eerie music is playing, and they lose control of their imaginations every time we drive down a dark road with lots of trees. Scaring them is considered utterly taboo.

I, on the other hand, rarely have that problem. As a kid, I became fearful the same as anyone else. Over time, though, I forced myself to deal with the emotions and not let them affect me. As I came to trust more and more in God's inevitable sovereignty, I became less and less nervous of things like monsters, the dark, the unknown, or even real things like demons. I had become, I thought, unafraid.

Recently, I've become more willing to admit that this is not actually true. I AM afraid. Constantly. My fear drives many of my actions, my passions, and my values. It often hurts my relationship with God.

These days, my greatest fear is that Samantha will stop loving me. She has a powerful personality, and she can be very confusing for my very simple and very male mind. I often find myself walking around the house, scared that my actions, nonverbal communication, or personality traits will betray something about me that she will hate. I feel like an house elf, having extreme affection toward but also extreme fear of a certain person. My fear is strong enough to make me doubt her love.

I am also afraid that my friends will discover how worthless I am. I love teaching, but I worry that they will someday realize that they never really needed me, that the things I do aren't that significant. Actually, that part is true, but I fear that when the realize it they will forget me, or make me less important in their minds than I used to be.

My fear shows itself in funny ways. For one thing, I cannot have people cleaning my room for me. For some reason, I get extremely nervous when someone even shuffles through my things, and it works its way up to panic if they start to reorganize. Even now that I'm married, I have a hard time controlling my fear-driven anger or annoyance toward Samantha if I'm missing something that I know she cleaned up.

Another telltale sign of my fear is when I argue with criticism. Someone will tell me something they don't like or struggle with about me, and even if it's 75% right I find that I MUST argue about that other 25%. I'm so scared people will mischaracterize me in their minds, that I will argue constantly until I like the picture of myself that I see through their eyes.

The biggest way my fear manifests itself is when I feel I am being disrespected. I am so afraid of being looked down on that I will go to great lengths to make CERTAIN that I am spoken to with the grace and gravity I feel I deserve. Nothing makes me dislike a person more than when they treat me as if I don't matter and don't deserve to be treated as at least an equal.

Why do I have all this fear? Much of it can be attributed, I think, to discontent with God's creation… I don't like what He created, and my self-hatred makes me afraid that others will hate me too.

More than that, though, I fear that I am a flea on the back of a dog. No matter how much I push and pull, sweat and strain… it makes no difference, and my life will mean as much to others and to God's Kingdom as a flea does in determining how a dog lives its life. I'm afraid that I don't count, and so I get weird whenever anything that might confirm that comes up.

Fear of the Lord is healthy, but fear for ones' own significance is also a form of self-centeredness. I know it's wrong. With God's help, I'm learning to fight it… because if God is for us, who can be against us? And if none stand against us, what reason have we to fear? I need to be reminded of that more than anyone I know. Pray, dear reader, that I will hear my own words and internalize them.


Professionally Unimpressive

2. I am professionally unimpressive.

When I was a kid, I was smart. Now, I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill, get good grades and understand trains kind of smart. Rather, I was the sort of kid who has an unnatural ability to communicate and think like a much older person. For instance, I was reading and comprehending at a post-high school level when I was in sixth grade. I could out-debate most of my teachers, and could do logic problems long before anyone else had thought them through. I did extremely well on standardized tests, and could defeat any of my friends at Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit.

All this led me to the conclusion that I was special, and that I didn't have to put hard work into things until they came to pass (as opposed to putting lots of work in ahead of time to make myself more professionally attractive). I never bothered to PROVE that I was smart, because I was supremely confident in the fact that it was there. I soon found that this does not mean all I thought it did.

Recently, I have faced the fact that being a philosopher with bad grades is not something a company wants. I am a general failure in the one area that EVERY job requires… being detail-oriented. I did not do well in school. I have a different value system from the average business or political personality. Perhaps most dangerous of all, I am more committed to things that are professionally unimportant than I am to things that are professionally important. I allow my love of books and late night discussions and sports and theology to keep me from a highly disciplined schedule, from extra effort on work projects, or on stuffing and improving my resume.

What I need is to be more disciplined, to be more balanced, and to have more specific direction. For those things, I find that I am completely inept. In years of trying, I can only see a long string of failures. My multiple attempts to structure and organize and improve my lifestyle have flopped. My drives in different career directions (pilot, politician, FEMA agent, lobbyist, etc.) have served to do nothing more than highlight what a thoroughly average worker I am. Nothing about my childhood intelligence or trivial knowledge or debate skill helps.

I am professionally unimpressive, and after applying to nearly 30 different jobs, I know the truth: If I were a manager, I wouldn't hire Ben Bartlett either.

I need God to come through for me. On the one hand, I've completely committed my own development to Him. Everything about my spare time and personal interest has been in His direction. He has called, and I believe He will honor my response.

At the same time, I need him to come through because I need to be rescued. I cannot continue to go through life failing and being saved by people who love me. I need God to change me, to create in me a spirit of discipline in my many areas of weakness. The time to challenge the storm may come, but for now I still need to learn to handle a stiff breeze. I do believe God rescues, but I'm still learning to trust His desire to rescue me, and still learning to trust ONLY His desire to rescue me. That I am professionally unimpressive is a fact. When I am finally changed, and when God's glory is shown in me, it will be apparent; it is only because He rescues that I succeed.


"Originally" strong

1. I do not do things that are "originally" strong.

One of the hard realizations I have come to of late is that I am an extremely weak person. Of course, I instantly rejected this thought when it came to me. Have you seen me pull out great plays in clutch situations? Have you seen me stick to my guns in an argument or debate? Have you heard the conviction in my voice as I challenge the storm? Aren't those things strong?

As I consoled myself with all the things I'm good at, I came to realize that those are also things that don't cause much of a struggle for me. For instance, public speaking is something I've been doing since I was young. I don’t get stage fright, and anyone who knows me knows that talking about ideas has never been a problem. Sports also come naturally, and coming through in big situations isn't as big a deal when you are generally better than other players (such as in Ultimate Frisbee).

In short, the perception of strength in myself isn't really because I AM strong… it's because my natural talents seem strong by comparison. When a heavyweight boxer fights against the local mailman, of course he seems strong; but how does he do against other heavyweights?

The more I examine myself, the more I come to realize how hard it is for me to persevere in areas that I dislike or am not naturally gifted in. I find it very hard to keep track of lots of details, or to understand the interactions involved in making something "look good". I struggle to keep in touch with people or to be consistent in doing chores or odd jobs. Perhaps worst of all, I often allow myself to fail, and then follow it up by convincing myself that I never really cared in the first place.

A person is strong when they triumph over something that is naturally hard; FOR THEM. Their perseverance is the measure of their strength, not their abilities as measured next to someone of fewer natural skills or talents. When I look at myself, I see very little of that.

This has begun to change my perspective on my role in life. For a long time, I thought God made me strong so that I could bear hard things for Him. I thought that being put in tough situations would be my specialty, since I'm so "strong" when they come along. Now that I'm in a somewhat stormy situation, I find that the opposite is true; I'm actually a wimp. I've had a hard time coping and struggling through circumstance.

There is a silver lining, though. My desire and commitment to being a pastor has not waned in the least during this time. Further, I have seen God actually strengthen my ability to understand and interpret what he is saying. More and more I am learning what Christ meant when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth." The strength I need to be who I'm supposed to be isn't there, unfortunately. It just isn't. Only God can fix this. I'm seeing, though, all the great things he COULD do with this. What will he do? I need to wait and see.


On Being Weak

I struggle with weakness.

Today I realized a couple of things that are hard for me:

1) I do not do things that are "originally" strong.

2) I am professionally unimpressive.

3) I am constantly afraid.

4) I am embarrassed to be me.

I plan on writing more about these individually soon. There's a lot to them, and it's disheartening to do it all at once. I'm really scared about this period of meditation; I am quite sure I don't like the things I am finding out and trying to admit to myself. Still, I trust it is for the best in the end.