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.

Exhortations for Today

I’ve been working on some daily exhortations to have auto-sent to myself, with the hope of reminding myself of who I am in relation to my Dad and his son, King Jesus. Here’s a rough version of what I’m thinking about right now:

You, Bill, are a beloved son of God. Your very future has been secured. But that future isn’t here yet. Until then, you’ve been called to be like Jesus—be dying to find life. You live by faith and you die by faith—your faith is so small, even smaller than a mustard seed. Why don’t you believe? Why do you forsake your first love? Why do you forget everything I’ve done for you? So, choose this day whom you will serve. Do not forget my son, your first love. Don’t be lukewarm and be spit out. Instead, turn from your sins and set your eyes on my Son, of whom Aslan reminds you. And remember that your faith looks like this:

·         Love your wife as Christ loved the church and live with her in an understanding

·         Don’t frustrate your kids and drive them to anger

·         Don’t work for your boss—work for me instead

·         I am in the Light of the World, the light that makes you shine in this dark world

·         Remember who you are—and be that

At Least I’m Not the Only One

“Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer.” -Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“There is nothing that we are so bad at all our days as prayer.” -Alexander Whyte

“There are times in my life when I would rather die than pray.” -Thomas Shepard

“May I but speak my own Experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of Praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you poor, blind, carnal men, to entertain strange thoughts of me. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so reluctant to go to God, and when it is with him, so reluctant to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my Prayers; first to beg God that he would take mine heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there. In fact, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray I am so ignorant; only (blessed be Grace) the Spirit helps our infirmities.” -John Bunyan

Not that these quotations excuse my complete suckiness at prayer. But at least I’m not the only one. And these guys are the bee’s knees.
HT: Mark Jones

Hopeless Wanderer

One of my big struggles in life is the pull to be a lock, stock, and barrel member of my generation. Which is to say, a full-out cynical, anti-authority, anti-institution, I-think-I’m-specialer-than-everyone-else-in-the-universe card carrying member of Generation Y. Which is a topic I’ve posted on before.

I’ve recently discovered Mumford and Sons (yes, I know I’m way behind there) and their song “Hopeless Wanderer”. It’s a pull I feel all. the. time. I’m constantly marked by “a clouded mind and a heavy heart”. It’s like a plague. Because as “I’ve wrestled long with my youth” I find that the answers seem so far away and everything feels so uncertain. My wife and I were just talking about all the questions we used to have about everything–about God and life and mystery and hope. But we used to believe that every question had a findable answer, so we never stopped coming up with new questions. These days I’m so jaded that I don’t even want to ask a question because I’m pretty sure it will lead to that same dead-end “I don’t know” that becomes the answer to everything.

A “hopeless wanderer” if there ever was one.

I resonate with two particular parts beyond that, two parts that want so badly to dig out of this hopelessness. “How I long to grow old!” Maybe when I finally grow up (when does that happen anyway?) I’ll finally settle again into that conviction that most older folks I know seem to have. But more directly, “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.” Not as if I will ever be truly happy with this broken world, but I’ll love it in it’s disarray because it was made by God. And right now, I don’t. I feel hopeless far more than hopeful. But, oh God, change that in my heart!

(Note: I hesitate to post this video because they filled in four comedians for the band and it’s way funny to watch, in contradiction to the not-so-funniness of the song itself. So maybe listen the first time to just hear the song, then give it a second pass and watch to giggle at the silliness of those guys.)

Not Fair

But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.

In all my insecurities and pridefully mistaken notions of awesomeness–I constantly vacillate between the two extremes–my one lasting hope is that I’m never going to get what I deserve. And I’m trusting in what’s already been done to do something new and good and perfect now in me, despite the mess I’ve made.

And how did I end up in this mess, anyway?

All I was trying to do was save my own skin. But so were You–so were You.

Good thing.

Faith and Doubt

For some, believing in Jesus and loving him with a full heart is as simple as breathing. For me, not so much. If I were to extend the breathing analogy, I suffer from my own version of spiritual asthma. Sometimes believing and loving and serving is unnatural and hard and laborious. Sometimes it’s draining. Sometimes it’s downright discouraging and hopeless. Suffocating. And like the real asthmatic who knows exactly how to breathe and simply can’t, I know how I want my heart–my soul–to be and I simply can’t.

I don’t have any solutions or answers here–I’m simply inviting you into the struggle with me. But I acknowledge it’s a hopeful struggle. I cling to the goodness and solidarity of God’s promises like an inhaler. It doesn’t necessarily make things feel any better, but it’s what holds me together at all.

On that note, here’s a song I love that I listen to (and sing along with) as one way my soul cries out to God:

My friend Scott has waded through these waters publicly as well and it’s been to the good of my soul to be invited into his struggle with him, even though it’s horribly painful for him. You can find some examples here, here, and here (though his whole blog is worth reading).

Yup, I’m a Yuppie, Too

Dry GroungOr more accurately a GYPSY. This article (warning: contains some mildly offensive language) does a pretty bang-up job of hitting the heart of my generation’s ongoing angst and cynicism. And when I say “my generation” (talking ’bout my geeeneration!), I definitely mean straight up “my”–because this nails my own low-level discontentment.

The fact is, I think I’m the bee’s knees. And I got tripped up in the article when the author said:

Even right now, the GYPSYs reading this are thinking, “Good point…but I actually am one of the few special ones”—and this is the problem.

Yup. Guilty.

What I find interesting is that the article links this discontentment to careers, as if that’s the main way that we build value and worth. I suppose for many that may be true. But that’s certainly not the only way people, even GYPSYs, find value. It might be in a creative pursuit. It might be in fame. Or success. Or religion. Or family.

For me, I see these same principles at work in my faith and in my family and in my friendships. Shoot, it’s even in my blogging. Since I feel like I’m so special, I’m yearning for everyone to see that specialness and just fawn over it. Ick, but true. Deeper down, there’s a yearning to see and find specialness everywhere–and a rejection of the mundane and ordinary. Yet mundane and ordinary are by definition the way things are most of the time. So why are they not good enough for me?

Deep down, I know there must be something better. And there is–it’s just not here yet. The glorious day when perfect and ordinary meet is the day Jesus comes back. That’s what we’re all waiting for, whether we realize it or not. It’s just that we channel that desire into our work or play or family or self-image or whatever. We try to make perfection instead of finding perfection in the Perfect Lamb. Not that I think that’s easy (that’s why faith is a fight), but it’s still right. And good.