Saturday, March 22, 2008

THE POWER OF REFLECTION: Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves

I went through a crisis of faith recently, and now that it’s over, I can look back at it and see God’s firm but gentle hands at work in my life. Once again, I prayed for guidance and God replied with something I didn’t necessarily want to consider, but that I knew was the truth. Once again, as I prayed for help, God forced me to look at myself and reconsider what I was asking for. Once again, I felt shamed and petty for my actions, yet God has allowed me to learn and grow from the experience.

God’s way is always perfect, and that’s why I’ll always listen, even if I’m slow about it and even if I struggle against it in the beginning. I know He’s right, and the only thing that’s keeping me from doing the right thing are the vestiges of my worldliness. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely free of them, and maybe that’s a blessing as well. Stumbling blocks make great teachers if we’re paying attention.

The issue was one dealing with service, and how best to serve God. In an effort to become more involved in my church, I joined the vestry in my first year, and more recently asked to become a lay eucharistic minister. Over the past year, while attending vestry meetings, I felt out of place and out of my league. Other vestry members seemed like solid decision makers and good administrators, while I felt like a spectator. I’m also embarrassed to admit that I had a hard time staying focused. The work is important, but my mind just doesn’t follow fixed agendas very well, and so I struggled in the role of an administrator.

As for being a lay eucharistic minister, I also felt that I was moving in the wrong direction. I wanted to serve, but I felt pulled very strongly in another direction, and simply couldn’t get myself excited about being a lay minister. Over the past year I’ve literally had a hard time sleeping because of another issue pressing on my mind and heart. The issue that kept me awake was oppressive poverty and starvation around the world. I often wonder how anyone else can find peace knowing that just over 28,000 people are dying every 24 hours from starvation...a rate of roughly one every three seconds. It’s a horrifying thought, and not an easy one to grasp. And I must be careful here...before I judge any else’s lack of compassion, I first need to remind myself that I spent most of my adult life blissfully unaware of the problem.

But after becoming aware of it, a fire has burned inside me ever since. I cannot get through a single day without thinking about it. The sheer scope of the problem is almost overwhelming, especially when we begin to look for ways to combat it as individuals. I very much wanted my church to get involved, to meet the goals set for it by the Episcopal Church, which set specific goals for itself and its members. I was frustrated that there seemed to be little effort to act on this commitment to combating oppressive hunger and poverty, to doing what God so strongly calls us to do on His behalf.

What I failed to notice was that the movers and shakers within the church already had their hands full as leaders and administrators, and were looking for people to step forward in other areas. I, on the other hand, was wondering why they didn’t seem too concerned about the issue. Rather than sit down and voice my concerns, I allowed myself to grow frustrated and eventually stopped attending in January of this year. I started thinking about joining a new church that already had these programs in place, but something continued to weigh heavily on my heart. I began to realize that the problem wasn’t the church or anyone in it. The problem was with me, and the problem needed to be fixed. What I thought was righteousness was exposed as self-righteousness, and I needed to come to terms with my failing. Changing churches would only move the problem to another location, not solve it.

In my entire churchgoing life—and I didn’t even attend church at all for almost 35 years—I distinctly recall the messages of only a few sermons, but those messages have stuck with me for some reason and I've never forgotten them. One of those special sermons was delivered at the First United Methodist Church in 1974 in Lubbock, Texas, where I was attending college. It was a simple message about getting to work wherever you are, and not waiting for the perfect situation, or for the right job, or for the right people to be around you. Just get to work doing God’s work wherever you are. To do any less is to duck responsibility by blaming external problems. The title of the sermon was “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” It struck a chord with me and stuck with me for all these years, and I finally learned why just recently, when the message itself took finally bloom within me.

In my immaturity as a Christian, I looked outward for the answers and didn’t find them. I felt that moving on was something I had to do to grow in my faith. I was very, very wrong. If we really pay attention to our hearts and conscience, we discover that God won’t allow us the guilty pleasure of pointing the finger elsewhere or running from our problems. He always asks us to look at our problems, and first consider our role in creating them. Because we don’t like to see ourselves in a negative light, we often continue to turn away, hoping to postpone the inevitable. But if you truly love God, you’ll keep listening and follow His lead. One thing that surprised me when I finally started wrestling with this problem is that when I prayed for guidance and leadership, God kept holding up a mirror and saying, “Take a good hard look. Recognize him? He’s the guy who's going do it. Now please stop whining, trust Me, and get back to work.”

Ouch! But thank you, Lord. You’ve shown me that although I was the problem, I can also become the solution to it, and that’s the beauty of Your amazing grace.

1 comment:

jayjay said...

Good thoughts in here, Kelly. I agree, most if not all, God's dealing in our lives comes back to not how others are treating us, or what's not being done, but what I need to be open to, or how I should respond. It took me some years to realize that whenever I felt wronged or unjustly treated, it was about MY REACTION to that, and how I dealt with it, rather than about changing the person or situation. His grace astounds me, and I'm painfully aware that the road does not get wider, but narrower, if I continue to walk with Him. Less of me, more of Him, is not going to be easy. Thanks for the encouragement inherent in your words.