Facing My Failures

I’m broken. I really wish I meant something along the lines of embracing my deep brokenness and my desperate need for Jesus. But I mean broken like messed up, malfunctioning, jacked.

I really can’t decide what I’m more frustrated about. I’m a big jumbled mess of insecurities, uncertainties, and stuck-in-a-rut-ness. Even writing this blog post feels like a well-practiced exercise of futility, almost like I’ve said all this before and my words are nothing but the echoes of something I have or someone else has said before.

“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”

I feel like I gutter balled my heart sometime back and I oscillate between not caring, not seeing it all, or living in some baseless belief that I’m going to jostle out of the gutter. But I’ve bowled enough to know that last one won’t happen: gutter balls don’t hop out of the gutter.

At least, not on their own.

What’s the real problem? Well, I really suck at stream of consciousness writing, that’s for sure. I spend too much time thinking out my words before they even hit the keys to really be as raw as I feel.

Regardless, I know part of it is facing failure, something I don’t do well. I’ve been largely successful in most of my ventures in life, though I’m not sure that’s so much a product of anything beyond always being sure to pick the types of things I was sure would lead to my personal success. So, it was really more about choosing the right paths than being an inherently successful person.

The other problem is that I don’t feel like I can hit the bottom of me. There are times when I get inklings of what’s really wrong with me, where God the Spirit grants me an insight into the true nature of my soul (usually through the means of my wife’s prophetic voice). And then I try to chase that inkling down and plumb the depths of my motivations and wickedness and fears, usually feeling like I get a good picture of my current state. But then hours or days or weeks later, something else comes along that pummels me a little more and shows me that I really didn’t get it at all.

I really feel like Eustace, scratching off his dragon scales but never getting deep enough to peel of the despicable dragon flesh to find the new man beneath. Just like Eustace, I need the mighty Lion to peel my dragon skin off for me, even though it’ll hurt. Except I’m missing something crucial here. Either I’m still so stuck in my rebellion that I’m blindly running away from the very healing I need. Or I need to ask for it, and I just haven’t because I don’t really ever ask God for anything. Or I’m just plumb afraid that the pain’ll be more than I can bear.

This uncertainty drives me nuts. Is this what a mid-life crisis feels like? Is it simply wondering if everything you thought mattered doesn’t and what you’ve always driven toward is a mist, so the only recourse is to make a hard left into different or weird or stupid? The uncertainty would bother me less if I felt like it were just some internal struggle that I needed to push through. But if I’m honest, I know the effect it’s having on everyone around me. I particularly mean my family. My listlessness is like a cancer around here. I pendulum either to complete inaction because I don’t feel like I can make a Spiritually wise decision about anything or I just shoot from the hip, being the most erratic, emotional man to walk the earth.

This seems to be a truth recently unveiled because of the recent failure of our church, indyEkklesia. I moved to Indy to start a house church. And that house church died. It has become abundantly clear that I was trying to be Kevin Costner hearing that creepy voice saying “If you build it, they will come.” I staked my entire family, reputation, glory, and hopes on this church that “God told me” to go build on the back of my own ingenuity, charisma, and better-than-everyone-else-ness. So dissolving iE was in a very real sense the destruction of the foundations of my invisible, though very real, Bill-idol. And it was pretty epic.

And since, the mess that I’d been pushing to the side (both consciously and unconsciously) over the last six years has been rising to the surface as my whole Indy life has come unraveled. Frankly, it’s been mainly painful and awfully embarrassing to finally start seeing myself more realistically, pretty much exactly like the physical version of me that has slowly gained weight over the last ten-ish years which I’ve dealt with by barely looking in mirrors and trying to avoid ever having my picture taken. Why deal with what I can instead just ignore?

And since then, God has been kind to wound me deeply, forcing me to sit down and actually look at my fat pictures. I’m a lot uglier than I thought, though I kinda knew it the whole time, ya know? So, I’m now having to face my anger–no, rage–that surfaces more and more, but has really always been tucked in my back pocket. I’m having to try to rebuild a marriage that I’ve sacrificed to the adulterous woman of fulfilling my own dreams of being the guy that makes a successful house church (probably should say “large network of thriving house churches”).

I’m having to confess that my kids don’t get much of a dad because their dad has used the inner excuse of “other important things” to allow avoiding deeper relationships and affections, instead settling for occasional lectures, angry outbursts, and/or grace-less “love”. And I’m scared out of my mind, because I’m pretty sure the pictures I’m looking at are blurry and out of focus. I have to simply admit that when I’m not fueled by self-glory or annoyed anger, I am captive to a fear of rejection and disapproval and disrespect.

But somewhere in this mess, I feel that God is paving the path to repentance for me at the same time, each brick arriving right before my foot hits the ground. I’m overwhelmed at the enormity of who I’ve become and my innate inability to really do much about it. Frankly, I’m still scared even to write all this, because I think I’m shamming more hope than I really feel. But I also do feel some measure of real hope, too, because I really just can’t think of any other reason Dad would be hitting me with all this unless he meant to shame me in my stupidity so that he can once again rescue me from myself and take away the very shame that is rightfully mine to carry.

There are times when life feels like it just keeps spiraling and spiraling toward…I don’t know, something not good. But there are other times when it feels like things are right on the cusp of change, like it’s just around the corner. But my faith isn’t in my good Dad, who can and will work all things together for me and my family–because of his grace. My faith has been in my ability to do all “this” and do it well. That success isn’t happening, my mess is emerging, my self-hope is being dashed against the rocks, and I’m left with some caricature of my own vision of myself. And while that’s got to be a good thing, it’s alarmingly disconcerting. I feel stripped and naked–and I hate it.

I hate it so much that in rare moments of clarity I can see that I’m fighting the grace that God is dispensing toward me. The grace is too bright and too glorious–it’ll tear me apart. Which is exactly what he wants for me, but not remotely what I want for me.

God, have mercy on my soul. Change my desires and hopes. Grant me faith to believe that you want a far greater good for me than I could ever pick for myself. Grant me the courage to a true man, ready to take his licks and chart a new course at the command of his captain. Have mercy.

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My Quiet Defeat at the Hands of the Dishwasher

For some time, the pressures of life have been building, filling up my mind and time and attention. The biggest and easiest culprit has been work, where I’ve been tasked with a new project and a new process, taking more time and attention than I’ve had to expend in a very long time. But it’s really been so much more than that. The cares and troubles of this world, whether that be work stuff or disobedient kids or broken-down cars or whatever, have slowly but surely been choking the life out of me.

The last few weeks have been the culmination of it all. I put in a whole lot of extra hours at work, even several over a weekend–something I normally refuse to do as a matter of principle, that my job doesn’t own my every waking moment. But I had “good reason” to break my own rules. I did that literally up to the second when we left for a family vacation. And even though our bodies left the house (and my laptop!), my mind kept churning and thinking. All of this manifested itself in a number of ways. I’ve been broadly distracted constantly. I’ve been very short-tempered with my children. I’ve been disengaged at home. I’ve been falling more and more behind at work.

Even in my teaching, a gift given by the Spirit, I have been misstepping and faltering. This past week, I taught three times: one for my church, one for the high schoolers in our co-op, and one for some biblical training with some close friends. In all three, I just sucked. I was trying to teach and share the insight God has given me, but I was drawing from a dry well. I sinfully attacked a sister’s story, I was woefully unprepared to bring anything good to the high schoolers, and my dear friends all had to tell me that I was breaking the very interpretive rules I’d just given them

All of this has resulted in two things simultaneously. On the one hand, I’ve been feeling the weight of my failure increasing and building and growing and overtaking. On the other hand, I’ve been trying more and more furiously to make up for my insufficiency, working longer and trying really hard not to be so angry and trying to segment my life and get it all figured out.

You can probably see where this is headed. Because it’s not been working in the slightest. Instead of getting better, it’s all getting worse. On our date last night, my lovely wife was trying to gently point out to me that the path I was on was unsustainable and that it was my pride that was fueling my grasping at the air of fixing my own problems.

And so after our date, I noticed our dishwasher wasn’t getting the dishes clean. This morning  (not really digesting my wife’s words at all), I thought I’d unhook it, pull it out, and see if I could fix it. (Note: I have a bachelor’s degree in music, part of a seminary degree, and a job as an information analyst–handyman I am not!) As usual with such efforts, I couldn’t figure out the problem and made a huge watery mess in the kitchen from unhooking the water lines.

The hardest part was telling my wife we should call an appliance repairman. Because, you see, I think I could fix it with more time. I think I could figure out the problem and save us money. But what I don’t want to own up to is the fact that I already don’t have time for all the commitments I’ve made for myself. Nor that I might spend hours taking the darn thing apart and searching online repair forums and still not find the problem. My modus operandi is to never admit defeat: I can do this!

Except I can’t. Less because I’m not able–I have a pretty strong track record of accomplishing most things I decide to accomplish–but more because I’m a fool who can’t see that he’s choosing to neglect what’s been entrusted to me to save a few bucks that for once in my life I can actually afford to spend. Is it better to save money or to humble myself by getting help and getting back to my true responsibilities?

And I don’t think I’m explaining this very well anyhow. I feel like I’m advocating for some advanced time management tools or a life coach to help me prioritize. Which is about as Jesus-less as all my efforts have been lately. I’m sure time management or life coaching could help in some manner.

My problem, though, is a heart problem. My defeat came from the dishwasher because my Dad was kind enough to see me building my tower up to the heavens and came down to confuse my work and scatter me before I trudged full force into self-worshiping idolatry.

I’m glad I lost. I needed to. My own imaginary kingdom was bloated and moldy and cracked and rotting, but beautiful in my mind. But my Dad, who sees me refusing his good food to instead eat from the trash can, has used the sharp sting of discipline–and just the right discipline–to show me the feast he’s laid out for me.

My feast? The feast of a Savior who was already perfect so I would stop trying to be. The feast of limits, the feast of understanding that I’m not an island and not everything is my job, the feast of fellowship with my God through the Spirit who dwells within me, the lowly estate of a beaten and rejected Savior where I would rather bypass the gutters and jump to the glory.

So I’m grateful. A first step has been taken. My attention has been turned to the feast, but my heart is slow and cold and incredibly stupid. God grant me the grace to repent beyond even what I’ve seen so far.

Even with Our Kids

One of the banners I’ve been touting for a long, long time now on my journey toward home-based churches is that ministry is mutual. I tire of the traditional church model that basically says you only do diligent ministry if you get paid for it. Otherwise, you attend a class or bring candy to the trunk-or-treat or coach some Upward basketball, and you’re good to go! Otherwise, let the paid guy do the work you (the customer!) paid for!

No, ministry is one to another. Serving one another, doing good to one another, caring for one another, bearing one another’s burdens.

But it turns out (as usual) I didn’t press that far enough, didn’t see that the “one anothers” stretch even farther than I had imagined. Today, my wife went to Facebook to confess her sins to others, to be an open book to a world that tries to hide anything unsavory. She posted, “This mama just finished a bratty tantrum by literally screaming at my kids for their noise level (oh the irony is not lost on me). I went to my room to breathe and cool down. When I came out a few minutes later, [one of my daughters] was finishing putting the three little ones down for nap. I want to be like my kids when I grow up, ready to serve quickly even when things aren’t going well, loving even the one who was just unkind to me.”

Slam. My wife is so much more open than I am and sees so much more clearly her sins and her savior. I love her for that.

So, I’m all slammed because I rail at the kids all the time, they’re so undeservedly loving toward this daddy, so quick to forgive me in those rare times I do ask their forgiveness. I’m already ripped raw when our dear friend Carrie Quillo chimes in with this encouragement (among the many other ladies who spoke encouragement) in the comments: “I pray that you will see that the Holy Spirit is making you like that. You saw your sin, you saw [your daughter’s] love and God used it to turn your heart back to love and service to your kiddos. Ministry is mutual even with our kids.”

Even with these little people who disobey me all the time, who rebel, who fight with each other, who test limits all the time, who have so, so, so, so, so much they need to learn from me, their wise and discerning father?

Obviously, I still don’t believe my own manifesto. Parent to kid is a one-way relationship, right?

“Ministry is mutual even with our kids.” Amen, sister.

“Failure”

Seth Godin nails an important idea that being a failure and feeling like a failure are rarely the same thing. You should read it, as he makes the point so well.

As a Jesus follower, we all tend to write up a series of mental (or actual!) rules that we measure ourselves by. The problem is that we often set standards that are either too lofty or not required of us by King Jesus or just plum ridiculous (I will read the whole Bible in three days!).

For me (and the silly people like me), I tend not to make many of these types of rules for myself. Why? Because I’d feel bad all the time because I’d surely miss the mark constantly! Psh. So in order to avoid feeling like a failure, I require nothing of myself and truly fail in loving my neighbor as myself because I don’t even try.

So to the me’s of the world, I say: Stop trying to avoid feeling like a failure. Avoiding the feeling isn’t the same as avoiding failure. And in trying not to feel like you’re failing, you’re actually just failing and feeling good about it. Which is absurd and maybe even wicked. Repent of your false righteousness and hear the Word of the Lord.

But others (some whom I love dearly) makes an insurmountable list of goals, such that can never be attained. And thus they “fail” and are crushed under the constant sense of failure upon failure.

To them I say: Instead, walk by faith. Remember that God is preparing beforehand the good deeds he intends you today. And he is actively growing you up, turning your toddles into strides. As ridiculous as it is for the toddler to think he can walk without falling in one day or the ten-year-old who wants to chop wood with the strength of his daddy, it’s that ridiculous to think you can overcome every weakness by tomorrow or next month or next year. Growing my nature takes time—physically or spiritually. Trust the farmer of your soul.