Thursday, September 14, 2006

Seeing myself as God sees me

One of the hardest things about truthful discernment is forcing yourself to look honestly at yourself.

And now, I'm going to rewrite that sentence, because I can already see that I am hiding behind pronouns to create some distance.

One of the hardest things about truthful discernment for me is forcing myself to look honestly at myself.

Early, early on when I had begun to seriously consider minstry and seminary, I think I did a lot of casual self-inventory. I didn't make lists, I often didn't even consciously think about it, I just tended to look at my life as it existed -- my actions, my thoughts, my words -- in light of this new sense of direction. One evening, I was reading one of Anne Lamont's books and she was describing herself at her worst both in her substance abuse and how that affected her relationships. And I thought to myself, having done my own recent self-evaluations, Wow, at least my life is not like that. It (I) was never that bad. (And the smug moment I just described also came with an appreciation anew of God's amazing grace and Anne's ability to put it into words so beautifully.) And in the very next sentence, there was a word -- one word -- that sent me back 10 years to the worst thing I have ever done in my life. And my smugness went away. And I looked truthfully at my worst self. And I wrote a letter -- it was not unlike those letters folks in 12-step groups write, but I did not have the excuse of demon spirits. I was stone cold sober. And I found an email address for the person I had wronged, and I first wrote a simple note seeking permission to send the letter. Permission was granted and the letter sent and received with grace. Amazing grace.

That was a hard but good early moment in ministry discernment. And it would have been good even without the grace because I looked honestly at myself. But the grace made it sacred.

This week, I have had some wonderful ministry moments, and I have had some painful discernment moments. Painful because I was honestly assessing my inner self -- not just my skills or gifts but my true self in relation to ministry. One of the things I realized is that I don't know if I have what it takes within me to sustain myself in ministry. Yet I am blessed that throughout almost two years of ministry opportunities, I have had wonderful affirmations of the truth of this call. I have those to balance against the doubts.

But the most painful part of the week's discernment was facing some truths about my inner self in relation to people I care about and the damage that even unspoken thoughts can do.

And sometimes I think that when I am most truthful with myself about myself, I see myself as God sees me. And that's why the truth is painful. But the beauty of truth is that I also sometimes get to see glimpses of me at my best, also as God sees me.

Having faced this recent difficult truth about myself in the same week that I experienced so many beautiful communion moments, I wanted to honor and affirm both the difficulty and the beauty of personal truths -- the joyous ones and the painful ones. The unending cup I wrote about earlier still had some consecrated juice remaining, and early this morning I decided the best way to be present to God in acknowledgement of these moments of truth and the healing that facing the truth can bring was in communion.

But it seemed odd to have communion alone. I wished I could share this unending cup with the people I care about, those who have helped me heal -- especially the one who courageously abided with me in facing that most recent difficult truth. I flashed back to the moment the previous day when I had taken communion on behalf of the woman who was dying, and I thought maybe I could do the same, pouring a second cup for my friend. But the dying woman had been present. It felt like true communion. Pouring a cup for someone not present did not feel the same. So I decided simply to go to my car, get my communion kit and serve myself communion.

As I reached quietly for the door of the commuter dorm, another early rising seminary student walked out of her room to head outside. We went outside together and walked to my car and talked for a while and I asked her if she would share communion with me. And we talked about what I have learned about myself this week and this year. And we talked about what difficult but essential work it is to seek inwardly as well as outwardly. We talked about how hard it is to face truths but how important it is to know ourselves well. And I poured the last remaining consecrated juice from this week of many beautiful communions, and we served one another. And as she served me, she said, I think this is like the Emmaus communion where they talked and talked and talked but their eyes were not opened until they had tasted the bread.

All week, I have been tasting the bread of life and the cup of blessing, consecrated in one of the most beautiful Water's Edge services I have ever witnessed, and it has sustained me and revived me and illumed me.

And I did open my eyes, and, if only in glimpses, saw myself as God sees me.

And now, I go forward in grace, sustained by the unending cup.

Thanks be to God.

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