October 18, 2017

Keep Going

1355More self-indulgent thoughts on my life. Skip if that annoys you.

In the middle of this week, I heard some seriously bad health news about a good friend. Yesterday, I had to turn down an opportunity I really wanted to accept. Last night, I got a confusing and frustrating work-related letter. Today, I’ve really struggled to relate to the three worship experiences I’ve been part of. Tonight I received an email from a major blogger bluntly telling me about the depths of my “self-absorbed” character.

I could drive myself bonkers thinking about spiritual warfare on days like today. When I was a young Christian I imagined the devil tormenting me with all these difficulties while God stood by waiting for me to do the right thing, i.e. pray some prayer, take a bold stand, rejoice….something.

Now I believe this is simply life in the fallen world. It’s being human. It’s being 53. It’s being in relationships. It’s working with people. It’s writing. It’s just a day. In fact, this collection of blue days is so much better than most people’s lives it’s embarrassing to think about it.

In Galatians, Paul warns us not to grow weary in doing the right thing. If that’s the case, it’s also true that we should be on the watch for growing weary in the daily grind, the problem relationship and the unsolvable, uncomfortable problems that come along with staying with things.

And that’s right at the core of things. Staying with it.

I’ve stayed in ministry, and that means I’ve stayed around to see a lot of people be sick, suffer and some die. Hopefully, if I stay around for the whole show, I’ll see them again in much better shape and in much better circumstances.

I’ve stayed at one place for 18 years, and that brings the inevitable personal conflicts that simply won’t be resolved. I can waste my time explaining things for the 100th time, trying to fix things or I can just do my best, live, learn and keep my hand to the plow. There are a LOT of ways to look back when you are in long term ministry, including by looking forward or away. Don’t give up, even when the people around you are always going to be who they are without real change, and some of them just can’t like you and never will.

I’ve stayed with worship leadership and worship attendance when every ounce of my strength has told me to walk away for my own survival. So there are days that I am drowning in what evangelicals call “worship,” but that’s because I have chosen to stay and not quit. Not give up. Sometimes it’s a long time between gasps of air, but I’m still afloat.

I’ve stayed with writing and earned a place, opportunities and an audience. Along with that comes the feedback of people who don’t know me. The more I write, the more readers will write to me to say whatever they think. That’s the deal. Mentors tell me that it’s time to stop reading the mail. I don’t want to be an addict in a medium that thrives on addiction. But it’s hard to be that person who says “I don’t care what anyone thinks.” We’ll see. It’s not easy.

Staying the course doesn’t get any easier. Not at work, church, writing, life or family.

I’ll get up tomorrow and read my Psalms. Then I’ll share this prayer with my prayer group. It’s John Wesley’s “Covenant Prayer.”

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by you or laid aside by you,
Enabled for you or brought low by you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
To your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Stay the course. Walk the path. Boast in the cross and the crucified one. Don’t look at what you’re gaining or losing today. Be determined to gain Christ in the end.

Love where you can. Forgive as you go. Humbly admit your errors. Seek other pilgrims.

And keep going.

Comments

  1. It’s times like what you’re describing that I think the body of Christ becomes that much more important. I’ve known a number of pastors that specifically isolate themselves (not that I’m implying you do this; I just find it sad) from others because they’ve been hurt too often by people whom they thought were friends. But as much as we thrive on the love of God in direct, mystical means, we also thrive on His love that we receive through others, and when we’re getting beat up, that’s a prime time for it.

    I also think times like this may also be apropos for spiritual direction or perhaps spiritual friendship. It’s always good to have someone who’s not directly involved who can help with perspective on questions like “Where is God in the midst of all the crap?”

    One way or another, people who care are particularly significant at such moments.
    Sorry you’re there.

  2. i’m thankful to be reading someone who (as a lutheran would say…) walks in the way of the cross and not in the way of glory. thanks for the reminder. left foot…right foot…left foot…

  3. you’ve actually got a pretty good handle on it. this really is all that there is. so, given that, can you find beauty in the monotony of this life, and in this suffering, and etc etc. maybe you’re just having a moment to accept what is and still be ok as a pastor. i’m praying that i can do what i’ve just suggested. but, so far, i’m having a pretty good day, so who am i to preach? wait til tomorrow, when i’m getting that email and i’ll see.

  4. I mean, I don’t care about you. I really don’t. SERIOUSLY. I don’t know you, and I don’t care. And I SURE AS HELL know you don’t care about me. And if you say something that I know is wrong, I’ll turn on you like a pack of wild ferrets. I’m not joking, because this is how blog relationships go. But look at the page views and think that that many people gave you an audience. However they feel, they listened.

  5. The fact is that even those of us with very little blog following, no concerted voice, daily ministry, etc, suffer some of these things too. It’s important to realize that no matter who you are, you live in a fallen world. Of course, in my case I’m often part, or most, of the problem because even though my soul is redeemed, I still live in the flesh. At any rate, no matter who screws up, we must push on. That is the only way to survive! and beyond that…it’s the only way to thrive!

  6. Christiane says:

    Michael: try to get away to pray where it is peaceful ‘for a while’. Just be sure that, this time, there’s no poison ivy.

  7. I needed to read this tonight Michael. Had a good day of ministry go bad because I acted with more brusqueness than I should have and someone else took that personally. It can be frustrating and tempting to think of as spiritual warfare when in reality it is just life in a fallen world. Mistakes get made. Make amends and then keep putting one foot in front of the other.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  8. I appreciated your thoughts today. You have captured the essence of it.

    To be honest, I would walk away from negative worship experiences, or at the very least try and articulate why they were negative to those responsible.

    I can recall many years ago being in a Pentecostal church being exhorted (twice) by the Assistant Pastor (don’t we love titles) who was leading worship to ‘raise your hands’. I’m a worshiper at heart, but at that moment all I felt like raising was two fingers.

    There is so much manipulation and control that passes for worship.

    Anyway, celebrate the good, cherish those golden moments that make it all worthwhile, and trust God for what passes in between.

    Blessings

  9. “In fact, this collection of blue days is so much better than most people’s lives it’s embarrassing to think about it.’

    I know – when I have times like that I have to tell myself, “If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, I am in great shape.” Looks like you’re keeping an eternal perspective, which is all you can do. And you’re right. So much of our journey here on earth is not sexy or flashy. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other, treating those around us as Christ would. It’s not always easy or fun, but it’s our call:

    “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

    Galatians 6:9

  10. Your blog is the first I look for every day. You have made me realize my faith has not become cold and have made me think and explore outside the confines of my evangelical box. My young adult daughter has found your writing very meaningful at a time when she has been very disillusioned by “church”. I think of you as an old testament prophet, honest, sometimes misunderstood, very human, but speaking words which must be spoken. Thank you for your ministry, for challenging your readers and for sharing from your heart the truth which God has shown you.

  11. There’s a difference between not caring what anyone thinks and not caring what everyone thinks.

  12. Listen to “Nimrod” by Edward Elgar. It will make you feel nice. 😉

  13. A mock Latin phrase, “illegitimi non carborundum,” comes to mind. As you say, keep going, similar to a song from Robert Altman’s “Nashville” sung by the character Haven Hamiltion (played by Henry Gibson) entilted “Keep A’goin.'”

    We hear a lot about passion these days and how critical/key it is, but if passion isn’t coupled with perseverance, it isn’t worth much more than a “rah-rah” moment. Wesley’s Covenant Prayer can keep all of us going.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      A mock Latin phrase, “illegitimi non carborundum,” comes to mind.

      That anything like “Pax Nabisco Cookies”?

  14. ‘Tonight I received an email from a major blogger bluntly telling me about the depths of my “self-absorbed” character.’

    Like another guy said above, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I do care, just like I care for all God’s creation. I’ve felt a lot of things that you write about, which is why I read you every day. Just knowing that others go through the same things helps me. I get tired of the ‘happy faces’ and lack of any real sharing from many people that makes me feel like the Lone Ranger so many times. Thanks for being real. It helps me.

  15. The “self-absorbed” criticism, when administered by anyone with a blog and a twitter feed, loses a bit of its salt in the cold light of irony.

    I could talk about the relation between writing and transparency, but the kind of blogger who faults me as “self-absorbed” probably…

    1)….has almost no idea how IM challenges me to be less self-absorbed and more about the journeys and experiences of other people, and…

    2)… is unlikely to see the value in any writing, from Keruac to the Sonnets to Don Miller, that “opens a vein” from time to time. And that’s OK. I don’t do well with certain kinds of writing either. To each his own.

    As I said in the post, a lot of people tell me I’ve reached the point where I’m going to have to stop reading the mail. Maybe. I hope not.

    • Well, if you fancy doing the “heaping coals of fire on his head” thing, you could always email him back with the Litany of Humility:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litany_of_humility

      If anyone has any success praying this, please be sure to let me know. I should pray it myself, but… well, you know 🙂

      Seriously, anybody with a blog of his own who takes the time to email another blogger about being “self-absorbed”: Hello, Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle!

      • My Humility Prayer goes more like:

        “Lord, if you wanted me to be humble, why did you make me so great?”

  16. Strong post Michael. Maybe perseverence in the face of the ordinary is harder than perseverence in the face of the momentous. “Do not despise the day of the small thing…..” I think that’s in the OT somewhere. Keep marching and pass me a C-ration, Sarge…

    • One thot on reading the mail: split the difference and learn where trouble is likely to come from; read those quickly, if at all, and respond as little as possible (other than to moderate if it’s way out of bounds); maybe have a second set of eyes moderate when you are feeling knocked around.

      Unsolicited advice, hope you don’t mind.
      Pax to you and the Reds.

      Greg R

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Or the line from Black Hawk Down:

      “But I’ve been shot!”

      “Everybody’s been shot! Now drive!”

  17. As someone who is going through pretty much the same thing, one thing that the Lord is teaching me is to do what I love to do. We all have dreams and we all have goals, but do we set out plans to achieve them or do we just keep wishing? God has given each of us unique interests and desires. Do we drudgingly go through life doing what we think we should be doing, or are we doing what we want and love to do? This isn’t about selfish ambition and this is not putting your own interests above others; this is about doing what you as a human being, created in the image of God, love to do and enjoying life!

    I have asked myself before, “Am I staying in this situation because God really wants me to endure this or am I staying because I’m too proud to do anything about it and it sometimes makes me feel better by being a martyr?”

    Do what you love to do. We’re not going to get a second chance to live this life again. And whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

  18. Quite right- you are self absorbed…just as the Psalmist is….someone should tell him as well that the way to follow God is to be less self absorbed and a bit more ‘Trust God and he will bless you all of the time!’

    Keep going- I am amazed at the quality and depth of your site. I read it cos it (along with others) tells me that questions and being normal is…well normal and you can follow Christ in the everydayness. Thanks for your blog.

    NB: As a British Methodist minister you will win me all the time when you quote the Covenant prayer!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      ….someone should tell him as well that the way to follow God is to be less self absorbed and a bit more ‘Trust God and he will bless you all of the time!’

      AKA “Five Fast Praise-the-LORDs Will Solve EVERYTHING!”

      Sounds like something coming out of Job’s companions/advisors’ pie-holes. Very Easy to say as long as you’re NOT the one with the problems.

  19. Ron Mackey says:

    Thanks for the transparent, painful honesty. I was refreshing to read after a stressful Sunday filled with, well you know….
    In His Grace
    Ron

  20. I have been reading your blog for the past year. Even though there may be truth in the accusation that the blogging/facebooking world is narcissistic, your blog seems to me a refreshing voice of truth, a searching for meaning and rightness to this ever confusing life and walk with Jesus. The older I get the more I realize the truth of my own heart, how fallen I am and that I will never “get there.” Failings can be quite devastating when you think you have gotten beyond particular temptations and sins and find yourself right back at the beginning with no evident progress. I read your words and the responding comments and I am encouraged that I am not alone and that it is not unusual and even OK to still be struggling. I appreciate greatly your willingness to share your thoughts with us and to allow discussion on your site. It has been very helpful and quite thought provoking to me. Although you do not live near me and I don’t interact with you as part of my “local” body of Christ, you are still my brother in Christ and part of that universal body of believers that is so necessary to all of us. You have been as important to me this past year as has been Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, and Skye Jethani, etc. Thank you and please continue in this area of ministry that God has provided for you.

  21. I would like to get in line to thank you for your time and attention to your writing here. It has opened my mind and heart and challenged me continuously.
    My father was a Southern Baptist preacher while he was alive, and in some very “busy” churches for most of that time. I heard him say on many occasions as he was leaving the house to go fishing alone, or to golf alone…”If you don’t come apart, you are going to come apart.” COMPLETE time alone is a must for anyone who leads that kind of life….the kind where many other people’s problems become part of your load as people unload them to you in hopes of answers. If you don’t protect that innermost part of you that you rely on for strength, no one else on this earth can do that for you.
    I pray that this day God will pour out His Rivers of Living Water to you , his faithful servant, and that you would be renewed and refreshed and love-full.

  22. Jim Karpowitz says:

    Michael,

    One of the things that keeps me coming back for more is the wonderful soundtrack that you’ve provided for my own journey through evangelicalism. I’ll spare you my own story about how screwed up things can get when you sit under underqualified ministry who truly is self-absorbed. I’ve seen it and can honestly say that I would not assess you as being self-absorbed. The originator of that critique clearly cannot differentiate between “self-absorbed” and “honestly transparent”.

    So much of what you say/write resonates with me. My personal favorite is “Quit and See What Happens”. That one was gold and deserves a spot in the IM Hall of Fame. I don’t always agree with everything I read/hear at IM but I don’t have to and that’s okay. That’s a big deal for me because where I came from, you agreed with the ministry or else, as though they were somehow infallible. What you have done for me is to challenge me, encourage me and help me to look outside my own frame of reference. There aren’t many people about whom I can say that so.. thank you. I’m a fan.

    I was at the control tower yesterday at the local airport where I work. The controller made a comment that sometimes it’s totally quiet and then all of a sudden you’ve got half a dozen airplanes to deal with that just popped out of nowhere. I think life is a lot like that. But then she said that 10 minutes later, when everything gets where it needs to go, it quiets down again. Hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. Life is a lot like that too.

    Blessings,

    Jim K.

  23. How can we help?

  24. That Other Jean says:

    Michael,

    Skip the spiritual warfare thoughts. Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you. That’s just life, and the only way through the bad days is to keep going.

    Thank you for doing what you do, thinking what you think, and blogging about it. Your “major blogger” critic can’t tell the difference between self-absorbed and honestly introspective. I only agree with you sometimes, but I learn from you always, and I’m grateful.

  25. being in kentucky i think you appreciate the difference between race horses and plow horses. from one plow horse to another, thank you.

  26. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  27. I/M, I know you’re not fishing for anything, but this seems like a good opportunity to tell you how much your writings encourage me on almost a daily basis. I will not go into detail, but I am struggling in my faith, and your writings have helped me to continue to “hang on”. Thank you.

  28. “Tonight I received an email from a major blogger bluntly telling me about the depths of my “self-absorbed” character. ”

    I was reading from Galatians 6 this weekend. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

    The word that really jumped out at me for the first time was the word “gently.”

    Sometimes “bluntly” is necessary, but I think only if gently doesn’t work. Even then, bluntly can can done in a gentle manner.

  29. iMonk:

    Never care about what other people think. Never! You are willing to write down what many (myself included) are thinking. You give me hope when I see you expressing your struggles on similar issues to so many of us in the evangelical wilderness. Keep it up.

  30. Great post. Love that prayer. I will be certainly sharing that with my ministry groups. A great reminder for times when the ships seems to be sinking. I don’t think you’re self absorbed, I think you just suffer from terminal honesty. People who seem a lot less self absorbed are probably just silent about the majority of their self centered thoughts. Like me. But it takes guts to be completely honest. People who are too scared may often be offended by people who aren’t. Just another example of people on the same team running the ball in the wrong direction.

  31. Yep. I think that a great deal of spiritual maturity is all about accepting that we have very little control over the circumstances under which we live: We have to learn to get through each day despite the chaos and unfairness.

    You are doing good Michael. God bless.

  32. Todd Erickson says:

    So, how does one find a Mentor? It sounds like yours are fairly sound…is that part of the overall ministry process you have there, or something you have found elsewhere?

    My father always tells me about the mentors who found him, but I haven’t seemed to have the same luck, which leaves me wondering about the place of the mentor in the life of the disciple.

  33. Great post and a great reminder to keep seeking the kingdom first and not get distracted or discouraged. Harder than it sounds, of course. Hard to remember that the kingdom is hereand we can be part of it, wherever we are and whatever our situation. Wonderful prayer.

    All I can do is keep making myself available and surrendered to God, and do what I can where I am.

    And for what it’s worth, MIchael, I don’t find you self-absorbed. Like others, if I did, I wouldn’t keep coming back here to get encouraged and fed. Keep going indeed, because doing so helps many others on the journey also.

  34. I agree with John. Seeking the Kingdom First~ And, I am surrounded by daily scripts, society writing their own stories daily, different senerios with a variety of bland concepts, like I’ve heard it all before. God gave this ‘self’ two ears and one mouth. This journey is to listen more with compassion and beauty, similar to watching a movie~ :-))

    Namaste

  35. michael, I just gotta say buddy, I have spent a little bit of time here and have found some very encouraging posts that not only confirm that I am not a raving lunatic but also allows me to breathe easier knowing that I am not out here thinking this stuff by myself! As warriors in the cause of Christ we are spread far from each other… internetmonk.com allows us to come together to share thoughts and stories of the battle where we are fighting it. None of us are innocent of being self absorbed at some time or another… it is our nature… you are exactly right… just keep going

  36. Thank you IM,
    I’ve been there, I am there. The negative seems so deafening so overwhelming. Maybe that is why we are told “to be still and know that I am God.” Tomorrow may or may not be better. But doing something good always lifts the spirit. This blog is good, it is helpful, and dare I say humble.

  37. iM,

    Please do keep going. And please keep listening to people that send you email or comments, because if you stop, you won’t hear me telling you how much I appreciate what you say. Just remember that those people don’t know you like God knows you, and even He loves you anyway. 🙂

    Blessings,
    Peter

  38. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Sometimes you just need to take your entrance hymn from the Cult of the Blue Oyster.

    (This is the “hymn” I posted to Christian Monist when he was posting about returning from his Missionary days in Egypt. It was the response he would have gotten from me instead of the Five Fast Praise-the-Lords he DID get from all the Happy Clappys which burned him out even further.)

  39. Judy Palmieri says:

    As a fellow fish bowl dweller, I just want to thank you for your consistent ministry to those of us here with you. Especially when you could be so many other places, doing so many other things, with so many other people. We love you and Denise!