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2/14/2006

TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: TUESDAY

I'm sitting on a toilet. Beside me a bathtub is filling. Knelt down in front of me is a friend of mine. I don't know his name, I can't remember his face but he felt like a friend. He tells me I should call Brian before I get in the tub. He tells me to use the carpet knife with the thin blade. He hands it to me. He walks me through the cut, pantomiming, going through the motions, gliding his finger down the length of my arm. It tickles. He tells me to do it too, just practice, and I do. He turns off the water. I lift my leg to step in with my tennis shoes on. I'm wearing a suit. I slip. I fall awake.

That was two weeks ago. The early hours of Tuesday.

Feeling nothing turned into true depression Tuesday. I realized if the trajectory of whatever this was I was strapped to didn't change I would crash and be lifted from a bathtub by Brian. I didn't want that. I had no interest in ending my life but I realized part of me might, and that scared me into calling another friend for help.

I won't use her name here. What I will say is that she is the spookiest person I know. So much so that I'm uncomfortable being around her sometimes. She's a tiny thing with an intense and glimmering stare. Her eyes crawl through mine and wriggle around inside my brain. I feel like she can see stuff I don't want seen. She never pronounces judgement or even hints at it, always hugs, holds, smiles and encourages. But there's something bizarre and attractive about her eyes, something both spiritually seductive and repellent. Like I said, spooky.

She's mentored a few of us young pastors, befriended us and counseled us when we're in over our heads. She's our sansei. She's the adult on the playground, telling us again what we should already know. Most of all she senses what's happening beneath what is seen, beneath the obvious circumstances and the "I'm fine"s we offer up to her probing. And she addresses fearlessly, bluntly, lovingly, joyfully the reality underneathe. She's wise. And I needed wisdom - or something. I hoped she knew what.

I called her and begged for a meeting. I told her I really didn't think it could wait but I told her nothing about what was going on with me. She agreed to see me the next afternoon, Wednesday.

But before then I had to prepare to teach at IKON. We were in week four of our study of Paul's first letter to Corinth. It was my turn to teach, Chapter two, all of it. With my computer dead so many of my resources were unavailable. I sat down to study with a couple bibles, commentaries, notes I'd made before this crisis hit, and a pencil and paper. A pencil and paper and a busted hand. It took all day but I was finally prepared - as prepared as a guy as out of sorts and unbelieving as I was could be.

And that night I was honest. I taught the chapter true to the research I'd done. Unimaginative, page after page of notes, almost recited, very planned out so no frailty or fear in me would show. There in that community of people who love me and whom I love I felt something - maybe it was manufactured from the great desire I had to feel something, maybe it was nothing more than music and friendly faces and words from an old book I'd grown up reading. Maybe. Maybe, I thought, but whatever it was made me feel thhat I'd come out of this darkness someday. It dawned on me as I was wrapping up my talk on the words of Paul that I was the point he was making.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

1 Corinthians 2:13-14 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Paul was teaching the new Christians in Corinth that he, Paul, and their other favorite teachers and heros didn't convince anyone of anything regarding Jesus. If they believed the story was true it was God who provided the proof. Preachers may argue and persuade, they may prepare and learn, practice and plan, but if anything comes of all that posturing and pontificating it's not because the preacher was superhuman but because God uses humans. God provides the proof. We sometimes gravitate towards the great orators and professional productions but Paul reminds us without slamming excellence that God is perfectly capable of using the unexcellent, the weak - especially when those weak realize they are and take the job of representing God so seriously that they are afraid and nervous.

I imagined myself looking back on 2006 as the year of depression and doubt sandwiched between decades of belief and normalcy. I believed for a moment on Tuesday that such a life was possible. And I don't know why the sudden burst of positive thinking. But it gave me an idea - a scary idea. And I went with it.

"I'm a walking sermon illustration tonight," I said as someone chuckled thinking the much needed - and usually frequent - joke in the laughless evening was finally coming. "I woke up on Saturday morning in a dark place. And I've been there ever since. I've dealt with depression a few times in my life - in short small doses - nothing major. I don't know why God makes some of us this way but he does. Some of us just wake up sad and we don't know why and we can't stop it and all hope just goes away. Maybe it's because I'm artistic or just weird, I don't know, but I'm there again. My youngest daughter Penelope is ten months old and today she said "Dada" for the first time. And I felt nothing. I couldn't smile. I knew I should and I wanted to but I couldn't. Guys, I'm weak. I'm barely making it through tonight. But I've watched your faces all night and I've seen some of you getting stuff you never got before, taking notes, nodding, smiling, thinking. I've seen you reacting to the words I've been saying up here. Have you been changed at all tonight? Are you better off for being here? If you are it's not because of me. I've got nothing. I'm empty. I'm tired and having a hard time concentrating. I'm as low as I get. And if anything good came from tonight, came fro my mouth, Paul says it was from God. And he says it always is even when I'm not depressed. He says there's something happening under what we see and hear, there's a world of power and influence under everything. And Paul believes the wisdom and hope and change you walk away with tonight doesn't come from me but comes from the influence and power of God."

I didn't tell them about my doubts. I didn't mention the dreams, the hand, or any of the other crazy junk I'm telling you now. I didn't want to shatter anyone's fragile foundations. And the truth is I even wondered if what I did share was too much - if any at all was too much. A pastor once told me that the congregation of a church looks to the pastor like passengers look to a captain. "Passengers don't need to know when the captain's lost," he advised. "Keep your personal problems personal."

Well I blew that rule. And after IKON people came up to me and prayed for me and hugged me and didn't run away. They told me their own stories of depression and weakness. And I didn't feel as crazy or alone anymore. I felt God. Or was it just kindness and empathy?

I went to bed wondering two weeks ago today.

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