Friday, November 05, 2004

Seeking strength in brokenness

When my heart is broken, when my life is torn,
shepherd me beyond my grief and loss...

Shepherd me, O God –
Beyond my wants, beyond my fears,
From death into life.

- Marty Haugen, "Shepherd Me, O God," from Turn My Heart: A Sacred Journey from Brokenness to Healing (GIA Music, 2003).

A fellow blogger hundreds of miles away, this morning...a fellow seminary student down the block, this afternoon...a new parent in the next timezone, this evening...each of them have said to me today, in so many words: "I don't know if I can hang on."

God have mercy, but I understand that.

In November, 2003, when I heard from my denomination's candidacy committee that my formal entrance to the ordination process would be delayed indefinitely, I plunged into a depth of despair that I thought was impossible to reach outside of the death of a loved one. Despite my outward "I'm hangin' in there" declarations, on the inside I flat-lined, spiritually.

My prayer life went straight to hell, my Bible seemed to weigh a thousand pounds, and it seemed be filled with useless ancient writings that could not begin to address my pain. Worst of all, I felt that I had to hide my spiritual collapse from everyone, so that they didn't see what a fraud and spiritual midget they had reposed their trust in. The more the shock wore off, the deeper the despair became.
Through my days of weeping, through my sleepless nights,
shepherd me within Your loving arms...
It was just about 3 months afterward, on February 8th, that composer Marty Haugen appeared at LSTC to perform his work, Turn My Heart, including this song, "Shepherd My Heart, O God."
When the waves rush o’er me, When I’m sinking down,
Shepherd me beyond the roaring deep...
Over the intevening months, this song has ministered to me in more ways than I could ever describe - even when my prayer and devotional life was all but dead, and my faith seemed all but gone.

Now, don't get me little song (or, for that matter, the rest of the beautiful songs on the CD) didn't "make everything OK," by any means. (I'm still waiting to be "poofed wonderful" again.) But it did give me an enduring image of myself as a lost sheep... lost, alone, hopeless, screwed, and feeling like I was about to die...and a Shepherd who would seek me (and even catch up to me) no matter how far I ran away or how much I kept bleating about being screwed.
When my spirit fails me, when all hope is lost,
shepherd me from death into new life...
Over the last six months, I had the same candidacy committee reaffirm my "postponement"; two days later, my mentor, pastor and friend died of a heart attack. I lost my funding for my studies, and it seemed that every place I turned, I couldn't find a job to save my life. I had to ask friends for help just to keep my lights and phone on. I found temporary work, had it run out...there have been a number of times over the last months that curling up in a ball and retreating from the world (in any number of ways)sounded like a damn good idea.

I wish I could say I was all better now - but it would be at least a partial lie. I'm still without permanent employment...and discouragement on that topic sets in about every 2 days. There are still days when it's tough to even want to get out of bed...let alone "put my best foot forward" in the job search. I've found a bunch of lame excuses for churches, and a couple good ones...but none that really cries out, "You're finally home." And with my fellow seminarians in class (and me sitting out a semester, for financial reasons) life can get pretty damned lonely here in the big city.

But, on my best days, I remember what my first AA sponsor told me - "God has not carried you this far to drop you on your [butt], Steve" - and I try my very best to act on that belief, even though it can seem like a flickering candle in a tornado at times. And a couple times, he has called to remind me of a time early on, when he asked me if I could just not drink - nothing else, just not drink - for one day. With some disdain, I acidly replied, "Hell, Bob, any [fool] can do anything for ONE day." That's when he replied, "Yeah...but can YOU?"

On days like today, I have to remember that I am not "some special kind of fool," but just "any fool." And I have to remind myself, and others, that "one day at a time" doesn't mean "forever" - it really does mean "just this 24 hours." As a wise man from the First Step House in Des Plaines, IL once told me, "Steve, if you haven't been drunk, high, naked in public, or shot at, and if you haven't used a vulgarity in the final draft of a're having a good day."

And so, I am. And probably, so are you. It may not have been the day you'd choose - mine certainly wasn't, in several respects. But there are still many, many things for which I am of family, friendships that endure beyond my failures, and a God that can endure my sinfulness and backsliding, and still welcome home a prodigal child like me. Just like you, I only have to make it through this one day...and even when I run away from God like a bleating sheep, I know there is One who will leave the 99 to search for me.

And that's a good feeling to know.
Shepherd me, O God –
Beyond my wants, beyond my fears,
From death into life.


New Life said...

Geez brother, that was heavy... and beautiful. Wow. You leave me a little dumbfounded at times. Bless your soul my friend. Thanks for the post.

Keep trusting God.


Dave said...

Wow, that's where I am today.
That was good to read.