So I was talking to Mary about the blogging.
“I don’t think people are into blogs anymore,” I said. “There’s so much noise, so many blogs. Plus, I’m not sure I know what to blog about anymore. Most blogs are either click-baiting or funny moms writing about the appropriateness of women over forty wearing leggings as pants.”
“You’re a pastor,” she said. “People read your blog because you say things that normal pastors don’t say.”
I wasn’t so sure. “So I shouldn’t write about leggings?”
“Why don’t you write a post that’s a dialogue between an imaginary reader and you? Pretend you’re having one of your pastoral one-on-ones. Tell them what you’d say to them. Write that.”
So this post is that: a dialogue between me and you, where we can both be honest, and where we can maybe find a bigger God in the mess of our lives, a God that is hopeful and helpful and better. I’ll mostly be off the cuff, because I haven’t prepared for what you’re going to ask me. So give me a little grace, because your questions are most likely going to be hard. But maybe we’ll find something together that we couldn’t have found on our own.
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You: God doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job in this world, and I’m kind of mad at him about it. Can I say that? I just heard a story about this couple who tried to adopt two kids, but the kids both died before they could be adopted. And Trump? And Syria? And at my church the other day, I looked up and saw a banner that said, “God is in control.” Does anyone really believe that?
Me: I’m glad you said that, that you’re mad at God. What answer would help you feel OK about the two kids dying before they could be adopted? Or that would explain the phenomenon that is Trump? Or the refugee crisis?
You: I don’t know. But it just seems unfair. If we are going to say we believe in God, that we believe God is making all things new, is it fair to want some proof that it’s actually happening somewhere? I don’t know. I just feel like sometimes we pretend a lot.
Me: I agree. There is a lot of pretending going on out there. We pretend that we have answers to questions like why little kids die before being adopted. God must have had a reason, we say. We don’t understand God’s plans, we say. I don’t find those answers helpful at all. There isn’t an answer to that question that would satisfy me, other than “I don’t know. That makes me so sad. I wish they would have lived.” If someone could tell me why God allowed that to happen, I might stop believing in that God. I think God is incredibly sad when kids die.
You: What do you mean?
Me: I remember hearing one time that as a Christian, when you have questions about what God would do, or wouldn’t do, we should look to the life of Jesus, and ask the question, “Did we ever see Jesus saying that or doing anything like that?” And if we did see Jesus saying something like that, or doing something that, then we could feel OK believing that God would do that, or say that. And if we didn’t see Jesus saying that, or doing that, then we could feel OK believing that God wouldn’t do that, or say that. Jesus never once killed a child in order to teach someone something. When little kids were dying, Jesus tried to heal them. One time, he even raised a little girl back from the dead. So, that’s my grid: God looks like Jesus. I believe God is Christlike. And Trump? We’re all seeing this bizarre madness play out in real time, and it gets weirder every day. But – and I’m not trying to minimize what’s happening in our country, because it’s very real – my daily question is, “What is in front of me today?” Where is God at work around me and how can I join God in that work? Most things are too big for me, and if I swim too far out there, I get pulled way out beyond myself. I think the wisdom of lived experience is that we start where we are and radiate out from there. Where we are is usually the hardest work anyway.
You: Okay, I’m not even going there with Trump, because I might destroy something. But whoa – where we are is usually the hardest work. I feel like that’s true. I’m not even sure I know the work that is in front of me to do. How do I figure that out? Do I start with how I yell at my kids too much? Or how I keep picking a bigger glass so that I only have one glass of wine at night? Is it OK that I’m currently using a Big Gulp?
Me: This is one of the most courageous questions you’ll ever ask, and you shouldn’t ever stop asking it: What is my work to do? I think that’s some of what Jesus was saying when he suggested we take a look at the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye. It’s really easy for me to look outside of myself and get frustrated that other people aren’t changing. I keep believing it’s other people’s responsibility to change so that my life will be better. When I say it out loud, I know it sounds ridiculous, but I keep doing it. So part of my work is to stop demanding that other people change in order to make me happy.
You: I get that, but are you saying it’s not okay to ask people to change? That feels harsh. The only way I could do that is to pretend it doesn’t bug the crap out of me when my husband forgets to take the trash out for the billionth time, or when my kids won’t eat any of the food I put in front of them. If I don’t keep after them to change that stuff, I think I might murder them.
Me: Haha!!! I love this. This is good. So how’s that working for you?
You: Umm, what?
Me: What is your strategy for happiness?
You: You suck.
Me: Richard Rohr talks about the fact that we all operate out of one of three strategies for happiness. We either (1) Work hard for safety and security (because our childhood was neither); (2) Work hard to gain approval and admiration from others (because we either didn’t get any of that as a child or we got too much praise from what we did versus who we are); or (3) We work hard to gain power and control over people (because we had no power or control as a child). If our strategy for happiness is to secure safety and security, we hate disorder and chaos. We’ll work very hard to make sure everything is in it’s proper place. We get anxious if we feel like we can’t categorize things, or if things feel messy or out of control. If our strategy for happiness is approval and admiration, we hate failure. We will work very hard to make sure we’re seen as being successful. We’ll want to have an enviable level of achievement. We’ll essentially be in competition with everybody else. And if our strategy for happiness is power and control, we hate it when people don’t follow our agenda. We feel better when we can set the agenda, and when people follow it. We hate being out of control. We’ll work very hard to make sure we’re managing life, managing the people in our life, ad trying to manage the unmanageable. We get very frustrated when we’re not in charge.
All of these strategies are unstable, Rohr says, because they’re all dependent upon other people (to bring us safety, or admiration, or to give us power and control); it’s all outside of us. The hidden invitation is to use that strategy against itself once you become aware of it. Mine is that I seek approval and admiration. Oh, I hate this about myself. So I can either cringe every time I see it at work in me, or every time I become aware of it, instead of trying hard not to do it, I can try to laugh at myself, and then turn towards God to see if God has anything to say about my significance. When we use our sin patterns against themselves, they can start becoming gateways to intimacy with God, instead of barriers. Does that make sense? Your work in the world won’t be done unless you discover the unstable ways in which you are seeking to find happiness and fulfillment, and start doing something else.
You: Ok. So I’m a woman over the age of forty, and I’ve been thinking about wearing leggings as pants. What do you think?
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Shall we keep going? What questions do you wish you could ask?
I host a weekly podcast. I wrote a book. I have a website. I am the pastor at a great little church. I am sometimes available to travel to hang with your tribe to help you all become more you. And yes, I do Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Oh, and if you’d like to stay up to date with my writing and events and such, you can subscribe to my email list. There. We’re all caught up.