I have it from a reliable source it’s okay for me to say the following sentence out loud (and actually mean it): “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
I spent the last 3 days at a local FaithWalking Retreat trying to excavate why that’s true. I learned there are multiple ways to define “being fully human” and that Jesus is the best definition from Jim, how our thoughts about God affect our prayer life from Trisha, how the Psalms call us to be open to God from Sue (my mom!), how being in control displaces God from the throne from Steve, and how hard ministry can be on a pastor’s family from Karen. I even learned a lot from Bruce Willis the movie star, who showed up Tuesday night to teach us how our past wounds can significantly limit our ability to be radically obedient to God.
But I learned the most in conversations with myself. Certainly not because I was the smartest person in the room: far from it! That was how the retreat was designed: with cycles of input, solitude, and small group sharing. Questions and journals guided my conversation, and prayer bathed it, but the time was mine to grab my shovel and start digging. Why can’t I do what I want? What holds me back? Why are things like total obedience to Jesus, full transparency in prayer, believing I’m worthy of love so hard? Am I more interested in obedience or just looking good?
As someone called and employed to talk to others, I was surprisingly out of practice with talking to myself. But my FaithWalking guides opened up safe space to talk, learn, and dig. The picture to the right, passed on to me last month by my spiritual director, sums up well my experience: it’s appropriately called Conversations with myself. Paul, the author of the sentence I quoted above, goes on to say “it happens so regularly it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but its pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge (Romans 7 in The Message).” The retreat was an opportunity for me to sit down with several covert rebels and invite them to come into the light and give control to God.
That Paul was authentic with his Roman friends gives us permission to be open with each other in the same way. The good news and the bad news about that is this: I’m not sure we as citizens of planet earth can be transformed in any other way. Genuine personal transformation (the kind our HMC mission statement says we’re all about) doesn’t happen by stumbling upon more information. I don’t think it’s come for you in the 150 or so sermons I’ve preached or the 150 or so sermons I’ll preach in the coming years. How could it, when we put our one hour worship service up against the Goliath of western mammon-culture which demands unconditional allegiance and obedience?
The times in my own life I’ve experienced accelerated spiritual growth and transformation have all happened digging deeply into conversations with myself in the context of loving community. Not Sunday School, not sermons, not incurring huge debts to attend seminary, not guilt inducing condemnation for failed morality. It comes when I open myself to a process of personal transformation. Then, and only then, can I be the follower of Christ I hunger for so deeply. Then, and only then, will we as a congregation be “Transformed by God to Transform the World.” To the degree we have all found this at Houston Mennonite- I give thinks. To the degree we haven’t- I vow to embrace a more holistic vision of discipleship and personal transformation for individuals and our congregation.
I’m gracious to have gone FaithWalking this week as my love of Jesus and the mission of God deepened immeasurably. But more than anything, I give thanks for the conversations I had with a guy named Marty, who, as it turns out, had a lot to teach me after all.