Grow: Doing and Being

This week is the launch of GROW - our church's eight week Discipleship focus about Healthy Spirituality. We are utilising a whole lot of resurces from Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Foundation which is part of the Willow Creek stable. But we are also tapping into a bit of John Ortberg, some home grown drama and lots of testimonies from folk who have been on the journey of selfawareness that this programme is all about. 

Self-awareness is not something we think of as a Spiritual Practice. But over the next term we are going to be looking beneath the surface in an effort to become more biblically aware of our thoughts, our feelings and our choices.  I hope we will come to better understand ourselves, motivate ourselves and forgive ourselves. Scazzero says a human being is a bit like an iceberg; only about 10% is visible above the surface. That is the part of our lives of which we are aware – and that people see. But deep down underneath is often a huge mass of invisible wounds, childhood memories, unconscious fears, defence mechanisms and crippling misbeliefs. These deep rooted layers of motivations, thoughts and impulses are often scary and shameful; no wonder we prefer to hide behind Christian jargon, pat answers and the dreadful lie that Christians are always supposed to be happy. But with God’s resources – his unconditional love and his freely available energy – we can face up to that deep challenging stuff. We can learn to be aware of body responses, heart thumping, tummy sinking, fist clenching, stiff neck, sighing and gasping and weeping. We can learn to safely ask the 'Why?' Or 'What is that about?' questions, questions about emotional intelligence, which is a hot topic in business studies today. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify, assess, and control our own emotions and that of others.

On Sunday, I shared some of my own story about becoming self-aware. I talked about learning the difference between 'doing' and 'being'. I’m a pastor, and although I serve part time now, for over twelve years I was a fulltime minister in a Presbyterian church. That was a  great season of growth in my life, when I was finally able to do everything that I had been called and trained to do, but that had been put on hold for eighteen years while we raised a family. But in my journey of self-awareness, I have come to realise how much of my identity had been woven into my vocation. When I 'retired' from that job, to have more time for family, I hoped to find a part-time role, and I did, but it took a while and for a couple of years I wasn’t working in any official role as church leader. And I missed it – horribly! Far too much to be healthy. Every time I would meet someone from church in the street or the supermarket, they would naturally ask, 'what are you doing?' And I found all sorts of ways to wriggle round that question because apart from child-minding and the occasional funeral I wasn’t actually doing anything. Or at least not anything official, which is what they were asking about.  I had to face up to some uncomfortable feelings, and had lots of conversations with my spiritual director about getting in touch with that real me, that person that sits right in the centre, that Viv that God loves even when I am not 'doing' anything for him. She helped me realise that I was grieving the loss of the minister identity, and encouraged me to just relax and be that person who is loved for who they are, not what they do. 

We reflected on experiences like missing the ritual at the church door. You see at St A’s, I preached every week, sometimes two or three times, and in most of the services I followed the Presbyterian tradition of standing at the church door to shake hands with those who had attended. And they said nice things! It was like a weekly performance appraisal, and it was all positive. One guy even used to give me a mark out of ten – and it was always ten! Affirmation is like oxygen to me, so I think in a way, I became addicted to it. Later, when I started taking the occasional service at a local Baptist church, I felt quite bereft after the service, because they don’t have that line at the door, and even the pastor didn’t always thank me. I had to  learn to get my validation from God instead, and that was hard. I was learning to relax into authentic being, not just frantic doing. I’m still learning. 

A number of people spoke to me after the service. Some mentioned retirement, and how they had struggled with 'being' after a very busy professional life. One talked about his enjoyment of rowing, but said how he struggled to accept the times he doesn't win, when he is tempted to feel a failure. I thought of counsellor David Riddell's expression, to 'make friends with an unbearable feeling' and realised there are lots of ways we can experience UBF's and lots of times we need God's help to welcome them as part of the rich tapestry of human experience that he loves to work with. Our sermon on Sunday had used King David as a model for this. We looked at Psalm 69, and the huge range of emotions expressed there, from grief and depression, pain and despair through helplessness, confusion, shame and rejection, to anger, hatred and bitterness.  We also hear his gladness, thankfulness trust and certainty of God’s love, but its important to see how he dealt with the full spectrum of distressing  reactions by telling them to God. The Psalms, someone once said, are 'the language of the soul', and they reveal that David’s inner life was very human and very broken. He bares his soul in these heartwrenching poems, and we seem to hear God saying “see, to have true intimacy with me is not to wear a happy face mask 24/7, but to be so trusting in my love and embrace that its safe to share all your feelings with me, no matter how messy or confusing they might seem to you”.  Emotional intelligence is becoming aware of these emotions, and healthy spirituality is feeling safe and loved enough to acknowledge them, with God and with others. 

After church on Sunday I opened up the latest Alive Now magazine, and found to my delight an article by Gina Manskar  entitled "Doing and Being." She wrote about her spiritual journey as a search for her call. Career counsellors and life coaches, and assessments to identify her temperament and passion, hadn't given her the kind of answer she craved:

"It was actually a spiritual director who helped me identify my calling. After working with him for about a year, he pronounced that he knew who I was. "Really," I said, "who is that?"
"You are Christ in the world" he replied, matter of factly.
That got me thinking. Maybe its not so much about what we do, but who we are in the doing. Christians are called to live in Christ, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Thas means being a reflection of Christ's love, a channel of the compassion of God. Do others experience the presence of God through me - not by what I do but by the Spirit in which i do it?....I find myself having to make space for the Spirit to move in my being, this is what i am called to do... my calling is to allow God to remind me of who I am so that others may experience Christ through me." (Gina Manskar)
So we need Jesus in our heart, in our emotions. According to Ephesians 3: 14 - 19, that is what strengthens and renews us in our inner being and enables us to put down our roots into God's love.
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 
The  GROW series is about God's Resources and Our Willpower, our choices. They work together to expand our vision and experience of God’s truth and grace, and fills us with new callings, new energy and new hope. 

To Ponder: What 'unbearable feelings' have I had to face this week? How can I make friends with them and bring them to light in God's presence? 

I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies;
I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved.
In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!”
they’re calling you “God’s living children.”
Eugene Peterson translation of Romans 9:27.