Good Enough, Smart Enough

For the last 6 weeks, I’ve engaged in a new practice. Every day – usually several times a day – I say to myself, “I love you Charles.” At first it was weird. (It still is a little.) And at first I didn’t believe myself at all. (I’m starting to believe myself a little.) But I think this simple practice is transforming my life. (Little by little.)

It started when I was in Laguna Beach at Rob Bell’s Keep Going conference. I was sitting next to my friend Steve on the second night and we were watching Rob Bell and Pete Holmes do their show, Together at Last. It was hysterical (and poignant at the same time).

Pete was telling a story, and as an aside he mentioned how he reminded himself in the midst of a tense moment, “I love you Pete.”

And I gasped, and nudged Steve.

Do you know how, from time to time, someone says something in a conversation or you read a line in a book or hear a quote on a television show, and it cuts to your core?

In that moment, I knew that line was for me.

To be honest, I’m not very good at loving myself. I’m actually pretty hard on myself. I know people look at me and see accomplishments (houses built, marathons run, good grades, church plant, that kind of thing), but I don’t see myself that way. I see two marathons where I didn’t hit the times I was looking for. I see houses I built full of little mistakes. I see every point in every sermon where I could have been better. I see broken relationships that I’ve screwed up over the years.

Most of my self-talk is pretty ugly. It’s easy for me to get in dark places where I am 100% convinced that people in my life don’t really like me that much, but rather pity me, that people compliment me because I try hard or something like that.

Enter my new mantra: “I love you Charles.”

I was listening to Pete Holmes again the other day while I was out on a 9-mile run. He was interviewing Weird Al Yankovic, and Weird Al said something like, “Every day I wake up excited and I think, wow! I get to hang out today with Weird Al!” And as I was running, I thought to myself, THAT is what I’m after. That’s what inner peace, soul stillness, centeredness (whatever you want to call it) looks like. It starts with loving myself.

I have these two friends – one who is local and whom I talk to nearly every day and the other who lives in Minnesota.  Both of them are guys who regularly affirm their friendship with me. And I’m trying my best to learn to believe them when they tell me they love me and that I’m important to them and that they value my friendship and that they look forward to being with me.

So, that’s what saying to myself over and over again, “I love you Charles,” is about. It’s about getting to a place like Weird Al, where I can like me. (Did I just aspire to become more like Weird Al?) It’s about getting to a place where I can live in community, believing my friends and not thinking all the time that people are simply putting up with me or pitying me. (And if they are, so what? The goal is to get to a place where I like myself enough that I’m having a good time being with me.)

I think some of us have grown up in traditions where we’ve somehow caught the idea that we’re dirty, rotten sinners who having nothing good in us. We think that talk of “loving oneself” is hippy, dippy bullshit – although we’d NEVER say bullshit, of course. But I really don’t think we can know love until we learn to love ourselves.

And I think, telling myself all the time, it’s slowly beginning to change something in me. At the risk of TMI, I finished a long, sweaty run the other day, and I was bleeding through my shirt due to chafing. Jennifer was dutifully kind and felt bad for me, but I said to her, “It makes me feel kind of tough.” And then I thought to myself, “I like a guy who runs through the blood and finishes an 8-miler in the heat. I want to be around that person.” Hmmmm. Maybe I’m starting to believe myself a little bit.

Maybe this isn’t your struggle. Maybe you are full-to-the-brim with self confidence and you look yourself in the mirror every day and think, “I piss excellence.” But, my guess is there are a lot of you out there like me, who struggle to be okay with yourself, to like who you are, to enjoy your own company. May I suggest that you try telling yourself that you love you? Yes, it’s going to feel a little strange. You might feel a little like Stuart Smalley (“I”m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me”).  But somehow, saying it to yourself over and over, you might start to believe it.

Unexpected Holy Ground

Saturday night I found myself in a podunk, one stoplight town amidst the rolling hills of Northwestern Nebraska. It was the kind of town where my friend and I kept asking each other “what do people do who live here?” And yet we found ourselves hunkering down on a Saturday night to spend the evening.

We bypassed the two chain hotels – a Best Western and Motel Six, if I recall – and opted for a local inn. The bottom floor was a bar. Most of the patrons we saw were bikers headed to or from Sturgis and local Native Americans. This was the kind of place where the wall of liquor was filled with dusty bottles because everyone here drinks beer. (And maybe the occasional shot of Jack Daniels.) Checking in, we signed a register – remember those? – and were each given a drink on the house. It was like stepping back in time.

We walked up the two flights of stairs to the third floor, wooden floor boards creaking every step of the way. The rooms were wood paneled, the art kitschy and it looked as if nothing in the place had changed in at least 30 years. We dropped our bags and headed downstairs to claim our free drink.

We met the owner, who had an innkeeper’s knack for conversation. Where are you from? What brings you to our small town? Where are you headed? The normal conversation you have in a small town when you have nowhere to be and you aren’t in a hurry.

After she got us taken care of, she moved over to a corner of the bar where she pulled out a spinning wheel and started spinning thread. I had just read an article in the July issue of National Geographic about how Gandhi encouraged his followers to spin their own thread as a basis for Indian freedom from British rule. I asked her if she knew that tidbit about Gandhi, and her eyes lit up and we launched into a conversation about Gandhi, mediation, Martin Luther King and Jesus.

Meanwhile, her 90-year old mother had entered the bar and my friend started talking to her. We found out that as a young woman, she was a real life “Rosie the Riveter,” drilling the holes on the leading wing of B-29s for the riveters to put the rivets in the wing. When she opened the Inn in the early ‘60s, she was the first woman in their city to apply for a liquor license and had spent years working against “the establishment.” Along the way, she befriended the local Sioux, welcoming them into her bar and treating them as friends, to the point where they made her an honorary member of the tribe.

We left to grab some dinner at the place across the street, and I said to my friend as we marvelled about the conversations we had just had, “Funny, you’d never guess it, but that place is holy ground.” Unbeknownst to us, we had walked into a place that, just below the surface, was full of Spirit. Just below the surface, there was a desire to live deeply in the now, there were actions for justice, there were struggles for equality.

Something I’ve come to learn about myself is that while I’m a raging extrovert, it’s not the party that I’m always looking for. Rather, I want to go deep. I want to go below the surface and hear what’s really going on. I want to create a space, wherever I go, that allows for people to open up and feel safe revealing their true selves. But in the hustle and bustle of “real life,” it’s difficult. It takes intention and the skill to ask good questions. Mostly it takes time. It means not being in a rush to get off to the next place. But I’ve learned that this space is where I feel most alive.

And I don’t think I’m unique in this. I think all of us long for true, deep interaction with people. But we don’t know where to begin. All I’d say is begin where you are. Try out a question. Ask somebody something beyond “how’s the weather,” and “what about the Cubs,” and see where it goes. Not everyone is open to this and you’ll know almost immediately when someone has their guard up. But more often than you think, if you really lean in, people want to talk about their lives and have more than surface conversation.

So, may you this week find holy ground in unexpected places like an odd little biker bar Inn in podunk, Nebraska.

Sabbatical Begins

Well, as of Saturday, I’m on Sabbatical.

About a year ago, the leadership team of my church and I began a discussion about this, and after lots of talking, it’s finally here. This post may be a little lame, but I’ll just say some stuff about what this is all going to look like. And then, hopefully later in the week, I’ll put out a real post.

From the church, here’s what they’ve said to me: “This Sabbatical is a gift. There are no expectations of you to achieve, perform or produce anything. There are no check-ins, meetings or other obligations. The only direction is that you do things that give you life and energy.”

So, for the next couple of months I’ll be doing a little travel (as I can afford), I’ll be reading a lot of novels, I’ll be running and cycling like a crazy man, and I’ll be hanging out with my family and friends. And I’ll be writing a lot more.

Over the last couple of years I’ve talked about writing a book and I’ve been heavily encouraged by some of my closest friends and biggest fans that I need to cultivate – or at least explore more fully – my desire to write. And so, over the next couple of months, I’ll be trying to practice a more disciplined approach to writing, spending 4- to 6-hour chunks several times a week. I’ll try to start posting more to this blog as well as doing some other writing projects I’ve created for myself. And I’m taking the Clumsy Blogger Workshop by Micah Murray – which I’ll begin working through next week – to help refine the craft.

My biggest fear about this time is that I’m a raging extrovert and 3 months of cutting out all my weekly meetings, coffees, beers and deep talks sitting in my office will leave me a little starved for human interaction. But, I’ve been fairly open and honest about it, and have received encouragement from at least one person to “be as selfish as you want to be with this time – if you only want to hang out with one or two people, don’t feel guilty for saying no to everyone else.” So right now, the plan is that we’ll be hanging with our closest friends (I really can’t say enough about the intimacy and joy I have with our friends), and my cooking club, and our neighbors, but for this season of time, that will probably be about it.

And while I’m a planner by nature, one of my goals with this Sabbatical is to take life as it comes. I’m driven most of the time, trying to make the most of my time and efforts, but I’ll be trying in the next couple of months to move more slowly and just see what happens – see what the universe puts in my path and live in the moment.

I don’t know where this will go. I have a friend who keeps telling me to “expect the unexpected,” but I’m not sure exactly what that means (which I think is kind of the point). So we’ll see. I’ve been in full-time ministry for 16 years now, and this will be the first period of rest where I don’t have a talk or event to plan. So, here I go, giving myself to some rest…