I went to church today. The first time since April, and probably the first time in years — and maybe ever — I’ve gone solely for myself. Growing up as the pastor’s kid, church attendance was mandatory. It was the same in college, where church attendance was monitored and enforced. Then I was married, later with kids, and church attendance was simply a part of our lifestyle. But I’m not sure how much of my attendance over all these years was because it was something I wanted and needed so much as it was expected because I called myself a Christian and Christians go to church.
But today I went alone. No wife, no kids, just me. I went because the mental block that has prevented me from embracing my faith for so many years finally came down this last week, and going to church wasn’t just something I realized I needed but that I desired. I saw people I haven’t spoken with in months, had good conversations with many of them, received one or two supportive hugs, sat under teaching from I Samuel and Daniel, made lunch plans, and generally had a good morning. I didn’t pretend that things are all good in my life, and the people I spoke with were gracious enough to be understanding of that and to offer what words of support they could, which I greatly appreciated. I even managed to remain awake and alert throughout the sermon without experiencing a sleep attack, something that would have been remarkable just a few months ago.
There’s still a long road ahead and much work to be done on my part. But for the first time in a very, very long time, I’m living my faith for myself and not because it’s something that’s expected of me. As a result I’m finding it far more fulfilling than at any other time I can remember. Like so many other parts of my life right now, it’s a marathon I’m running and not a sprint. And so it continues to be one foot in front of the other, for as long as it takes to reach the goal. Seems like there’s an apostle who wrote something about that once…
Dear Lonely Girl,
I saw you often around campus. It was hard to miss you, the campus and student body being small enough that every face was familiar, even if it was impossible to learn everyone’s names — and I’m ashamed that I never learned yours.
You were always walking by yourself, you always took your meals alone, sitting at least several seats away from the nearest group, though you chose a table by yourself when you could. You never seemed to hang out with anyone, you never seemed to have friends. You never smiled that I saw, never laughed at a joke because there was never anyone at your side to deliver the punchline. I wondered often if you even had any friends, if you somehow got through your four years without ever making a single personal contact. It crossed my mind a time or three that maybe it would be Christ-like to establish a friendship with you.
But I never did. You weren’t attractive to me in any way. Physically, you were homely. Your personality seemed likewise as attractive. It would cost me discomfort and sacrifice to go out
of my way to introduce myself to you, and I didn’t want to disrupt my finely established routine. I justified it by telling myself that I just didn’t have the time, that my classes were keeping
me too busy, that my inner circle of friends needed me too much in order to sacrifice any of my time and attention on someone outside my usual circle of activity. Deep down, though, I knew better. I knew I was just making excuses. Honestly, I was afraid, and I considered you to be beneath me. This is a mistake that I now regret.
I wonder how much it would have changed your life if someone had shown you some grace. I wonder how many other students ever went out of their way to befriend you. I wonder a lot of things about you and where you are now and how you are doing. I wonder if you are happy and if you have any more friends now than you did then. I wonder, if given the opportunity to go back and do it again with the knowledge I now have, if I would have done it any differently. I
can only hope that I have grown and changed for the better, that I will not make the same mistake again with the next person. Christ loved the worst sinners of his day just as much as he loved the socially acceptable. Why should I not be able to extend the simplest of courtesies to someone like you, a presumably normal human being who is no better or worse than me?
Given the opportunity to meet you in person, I hope I will have the courage to walk up to you and introduce myself. It won’t make up for having not done so in college, but what was done wrong before does not have to remain so.
Your friend (hopefully)
A recent set of questions
has caused me to reflect again on an issue I faced and dealt with in my social group in college. From a psychological, spiritual, and counseling point of view, it’s something that does arise periodically and should be handled with care and wisdom. The issue is this — finding a balance between spending too much time thinking about mistakes made in the past, and moving on with life. I’ve met a few people who just find it so very difficult to get over feelings of guilt and shame regarding things they have done or said somewhere in their past. For them, it’s a great stumbling block, a hurdle that they just can’t seem to get over. A lot of depression cases are
based on this sort of thing. They just wish they could go back and fix it, that doing so would make their present lives so much better. (The trouble is that it probably wouldn’t actually fix
things as much as they expect.)
There is a distinct difference between being stuck in the past and beating oneself up over past mistakes and learning from those same mistakes. Granted, it is sometimes VERY easy to get hung up on those things, but doing so really serves no practical purpose and leads nowhere good. Instead, and this takes a great amount of work and not a little bit of pain, effort must be made to pick up the pieces, face the consequences squarely, and use the situation, however
unpleasant, to learn wisdom, endurance, and patience. The interesting part of this is that, if you allow it, these situations can be some of the best learning periods and spiritual development times you will ever face. The moments when I felt closest to God, when I matured most as a Christian, were probably in some of the darkest times of my life. It was hard to get through, and I did feel guilt and shame and even a little bit of depression, and I didn’t always like the consequences, but that was okay because when I relied on God I found it all that much easier to deal with and I learned greater wisdom than if I had fixated on the unpleasantness of my circumstances and shunned God.
I don’t know what all this garbage is about trying to keep religion and politics separated from one another. It’s disgraceful the way that particular clause has been interpreted by the liberal courts over the years. There are so many people who feel that a person’s religious beliefs should have nothing to do with their political actions. What I don’t understand is why people don’t realize that there is no possible way to separate the two. Religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, and politics are ultimately all inextricably tied to one another. It’s what we call a worldview. And ultimately, it all comes down the individual’s theology (and yes, everyone has a personal theology, whether it is a personal God they belief in, an impersonal, all-encompassing, pantheistic, unknowable God, or no God at all) that governs how one behaves in every other area of life. You just try to separate your belief (or disbelief) in God from everything else. You’ll find that it is impossible to do. People like to stay consistent with their belief systems (a little thing we psychologists like to call ‘cognitive dissonance’ results when that consistency is broken). So, if you wonder about what a person’s religious beliefs are, just look at their behavior. Behavior reflects belief, as well as their underlying worldview.
I love psychology. It is, after all, my chosen field. And I must say that getting my master’s degree from a secular institution has been interesting, to say the least. I always have to include a personal mental disclaimer to every lecture. For example, in my Social Cognitions class last night, we discussed briefly a classic psychological “chicken-or-the-egg” phenomenon — which affects which first? Physiology or affect (moods/emotions/etc.)? (See? Chicken. Egg.) Does physiology initiate an action and thus mood is interpreted from the aroused physiological state? Or does affect/cognition initiate the arousal and thus the physiological reaction.
Enter disclaimer — “Note to self: present company has little to no notion of the spirit/soul, and few theories even mention the topic, let alone discuss it. Be sure to account for that in your own personal practice.”
That’s a continued problem I run into (and probably will for the rest of my professional life) – most of these theories are so frustratingly unilateral and unimodal. The theories attempt to fit all the facets and nuances of human behavior into a nice, tight little package of cause-and-effect (impossible!). And while some theories are better than others, none is perfect (or necessarily even great) at doing the job. So, I sift, sift, sift through the theories and take out the useful stuff (using a biblical, as well as a practical, foundation)and, with a VERY critical eye, blend it with what the Bible says about the human condition and the human relationship to one another and to God. Very tedious, yet at the same time, really quite fun. Especially when application can be made — and one can watch it work!
So, I sift the theories, but mentally add the element that nearly every theory neglects — the spiritual side of humanity. If you can’t identify ALL the pieces of Man, then you can’t properly address all the NEEDS of Man.
Life is painful. And the sooner I come to terms with that, the sooner I can get on with the business of living Christly and of fulfilling obligations that I am responsible for. Ultimately, I don’t really like to have to struggle and work hard, and it is especially difficult for me to struggle to improve in the area of my spiritual life. And yet, a big chunk of me desires improvement in this area, to be able to force myself out of bed in the morning to spend some time with God, to be able to actually be a strong spiritual leader for my wife, to defeat the pleasures of the flesh that have this irritating tendency to dominate me — in a phrase, to be a Godly man and husband. And yet the ‘old man’ dominates, inflicts his laziness upon me, and I am powerless against it.
But life is painful. And the funny thing is that I expect it to be otherwise, and so I keep treading water, hoping it will get better of its own accord. Yet, it never does. So, the thing to do is to face the pain, the hardship that goes along with growing, and fight the pain and fear and goes along with daily living, seeking my Savior all the way, and hopefully encouraging others to do the same while I’m at it.
And if I really want to go into the helping profession, then I really best get at it soon, or chance wrecking my whole ministry…..