Two Pants Diverged in a Yellow Wood

On Sunday afternoons I’m generally spent. It’s not one thing, but rather a collision of things that turn me into a zombie about noon on Sunday. I don’t generally sleep well on Saturday nights and I get up at least an hour earlier on Sundays than any other day of the week. I’m emotionally tired from pouring myself into my art form – preaching – and then giving it away. And, even though I’m highly extroverted, I’m usually “peopled out.”

But, I’m also building a house right now, and I made the decision that I won’t work on the house on Sundays. Instead, I’ve committed to putting on my sweat pants, resting my body, taking a break, being present to my family, watching football, doing the crossword, napping on Sunday afternoons, and when the circumstance allow, being with people who fill me back up.

But, a couple weeks ago, I had a collision of conflicting principles. It was Sunday afternoon and it was beautiful outside (low 50’s, no clouds). And the forecasters were telling us another polar vortex would be descending upon most of the US in the coming days. And I told myself,”If I just had a couple hours to wrap up a couple things on the house I’d feel better about the upcoming week.”

And so, I got home from church, took off my jeans and put on my work pants (old, ratty jeans) with the intention of grabbing a quick bite to eat, then heading out to work on the house for 2-3 hours. But, as I started to put on my old sweatshirt, the decision to keep pushing my body on a Sunday didn’t feel right. So I took off the work jeans and got out my gray sweatpants (aka: “sabbath pants”). But then I felt guilty about not getting stuff done on the house. And then I just laid both pants side by side on the bed and stared at them.

Sigh.

Isn’t this what life looks like all the time? I guess sometimes the “right thing to do,” is obvious. But others times, not-so-much. Or maybe it’s obvious for some people, but it’s not always obvious to me. And I knew, standing at the foot of the bed whatever pair of pants I chose, I’d feel a little guilty about. I knew that whatever pants I chose, I would be justified. I knew that whatever pants I chose, my wife would support my decision.

I guess I feel this way about most decisions. Of course there are obvious, moral, slam-dunk things that you just do or don’t do. But most stuff that we seem to face is in the gray. It’s not clear. “What would Jesus Do?” isn’t really helpful in these kinds of things. It’s not easy. It’s not a moral choice. And so we just make the best decision we can in the moment.

And so I stood there for several minutes, at the foot of my bed, staring at my pants weighing out the arguments for and against, pros and cons. I even prayed a little and then studied the pants some more to see if either pair rippled gently indicating the right decision, but no dice. And then I got annoyed with myself that at 40 years old, I’m so indecisive about some of the simplest things sometimes.

Sigh again.

And finally, I chose. I’m not sure if what I chose was right or wrong. I’m not sure if God applauded, or groaned, or if God even cared at all what I did with my Sunday afternoon. I’ve shared this story with a couple friends, who affirmed the decision I made. But I suspect they would have affirmed me if I made the other choice.

The point of this  is that choosing the “best thing to do” is hard. Change a detail or two about that Sunday afternoon and I might have chosen differently. And if someone in the same dilemma asked me my advice, I probably would have known “the right thing to do,” in 2 seconds flat. But, I was reminded that decisions are hard and when asked to give advice I need to acknowledge that in other people.

Some Trust in Chariots

The 2014 mid-term elections are over and this morning the headlines are declaring the triumph of the party that was left smoldering in 2012.

Predictably, on my social media feeds, there is all kinds of rejoicing or hand-wringing, depending upon one’s political persuasion. On the one hand, good for them, they’re not cynical about the whole mess like I am. On the other, how naive do you have to be to believe that things will really change all that much, just because the other party has a little bit more leverage.

Anyway, most years, the day after election, these two lines from the Psalms bounce around my brain, as they have been this morning.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  [psalm 20]

Yes, I have my own political opinions and preferences. Yes, I believe that America is a better place when the political landscape more nearly matches my own preferences. But at the end of the day, my hope doesn’t lie in the Republicans and their promises of jobs or the Democrats and their visions for social reform.

Maybe this morning is a good time for the people of God to affirm where their real hope lies.

When the Night is Dark

Saturday night I couldn’t sleep.   Again. It’s been happening a lot in the last six months or so.

I had been up since 6:30 am, had worked hard physically all day, and had spent the evening with friends. By all rights, I should have fallen into my bed at 11 pm and been fast asleep in minutes. But instead, I tossed and turned, flipped the pillow one way, then the other, kicked off the blankets, pulled them back on, waiting for sleep to come.

In this season of my life there are a lot of things keeping me awake, and even when I manage to get myself to sleep, I find my fears, failures, and anxieties waiting in my dreams, often waking me up, sometimes in cold sweat. Saturday night, I would start to drift off, then in the fuzzy space between waking and sleeping a dark thought would penetrate the gloom and I’d find myself staring wide-eyed at the alarm again, calculating the moments until my alarm would sound at 5:15am.

When the clock reads  two something and I’m breathing heavily from a bad dream, I try to pray. Most often simple repetitions of the Our Father, or The Jesus Prayer. But even still, fears break through like arrows. I don’t know how to shut off the megaphone in my head.

And finally, I find rest, but only a couple hours before I’m awake, clearing the cobwebs from my sleepy brain, trying to focus on the Sunday morning task at hand.

At church, in my office between services, feeling tired and a little beaten down, I reach for one of my favorite prayer books, Ted Loder’s Guerrillas of Grace and I find this excerpt from a prayer/poem called Release Me from the Dark Fury.

Release me

from the dark fury

of assuming I am unloved

when the day calls for sacrifice

and the night for courage.

Release me

from the ominous fear

of thinking some sin

or failure of mine

can separate me from you

when life demands hard choices,

and the battle, high risks.

Sitting in my office between services, tears well up in my eyes because these words, for whatever reason pierce my soul. The nights can be “dark fury,” and feeling “unloved” and that some failure of mine will separate me from those I love is always at the forefront of my inner battle.

I know that I haven’t been posting regularly, but here’s why I share this all with you. I think it’s easy sometimes to look at other people and think that their life is somehow magical or easy or perfect. (I know that there are some people I look at and think that about.) But here’s what I know from being a pastor: this stuff: anxiety, not sleeping, facing our fears and failures: we all have this stuff. We all struggle.

Even pastors.