Friday, June 25, 2010

Reality Checks

A recent conversation brought up the idea of reality checks. Reality checks are those things, people, or events that bring me to realize that there are things I am not seeing, not acknowledging, not taking into account as I make my daily decisions.

I am fairly good at noticing things what other people are avoiding noticing in their own behavior or beliefs. I can spot someone else's denial or self-deception at ten to twenty paces.

But my own? Not so much.

Like when I am given as a gift by the Men's Group at the church a little book called "Meditations for Men Who Do Too Much." Sure, it was well intentioned, even if it was off base. It was off base, right?

Recently I woke the Mrs. and asked her to drive me to the local ER. I was having chest pain, worse than any bouts of reflux I had ever had, and all the usual remedies for heartburn weren't working.

After a night's stay in the hospital, with a follow-up stress test, and some other stuff, my ticker is just fine. The problem was/is gastritis. Too much acid in the stomach. A problem that can lead to reflux and esophageal spasms, which mimic heart attacks, as the heart and this part of the esophagus use the same nerve cluster for pain.

(Before all the messages come in, yes I know that a reflux attack this time does not mean that next time isn't heart problems. They share the same nerves after all. This is why I went for the stress test and the follow-up doctor's appointment.)

All of this, and some pestering by family members who know my family's heart history, have been a massive reality check for me.

I know that I have a stressful job, between pastoring and chaplaincy, and that a baby on the way (see here for more on that topic) does not lower the stress. My blind spot was my lack of adding enough appropriate coping behaviors.

Some things I have started doing include:

1. Saying "no." I have recently been asked to hold an office of leadership within the Association (a regional body within the United Church of Christ), to chair a committee within the association on which I serve, as well as several other things. All of these positions are important. I have something to offer in each of these positions. I am not saying I am the best person for each of these, but I could do some good in them. Instead, I have declined. My plate is full. There are enough things of importance to which I have agreed. To spread myself any thinner would require me to lose focus on what I am already doing.

2. Getting people I trust to help hold me accountable. Some of these folks are already people I have been in conversation with. But I am now ready to hear them when they speak of rest, sabbath, exercise, etc.

3. Practicing what I preach. This is perhaps the hardest: admitting that I have been doing a poor job at those things I counsel others to do. So when I preach on keeping the Sabbath, I need to go back and reread the sermon and not merely be a speaker or hearer of the word, but a doer as well.

4. Prayer. I pray all the time. I have a list of people I pray for. I have times of leading prayer just about every time the church gathers. But do I listen? Do I cultivate the silence I so easily commend to others? The answer is no. Now it is time to work on it.

Throughout all of this, I am thankful to those who love me enough to continue knocking upon my hard head until I finally answer. I am thankful that my ER reality check was not as serious as it could have been.

What remains is to do the work of doing less work. If I figure that out, I will let you know.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Change in Thinking

I have loved preaching ever since I started. Researching, meditating, writing, teaching, storytelling, connecting with a congregation, and all the other pieces of preaching are things I truly enjoy.

I am coming to realize that my preaching has changed over the past few years.

When I first started, I wanted to give people a message, and have them receive it the way I intended it. I wanted control over the message I was preaching. I would work hard to craft a well-turned phrase, and try to deliver it "just so" to move people to see things how I see them.

Now I am more interested in inspiring people. I am letting go of the futile effort to insure that the message is received as transmitted, and trying more to deliver something that will spark the faithful imagination and creativity of those who hear.

Where this is leading, I cannot tell yet. But it is enjoyable to see a difference in how I am walking this journey.