Re-post: Bring It On!

One of my dearest friends was diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks ago. He’s supposed to get information on how serious it is tomorrow. He is scared and in that dreadful waiting place. I don’t know what to tell him. I try to listen a lot. I did come across this article I wrote a while back that I’m encouraging him to read when he feels like it. I hope it encourages him. For now, feeling broken and powerless with my friend. This is for everyone feeling that way today.

Bring it On! (via

Last week I went into an eye surgeon for a consultation. I have a cyst in the corner of each of my eyes. It doesn’t hurt, and isn’t even very obvious, but it bugs me. They needed to check to see if removing the cysts will interfere with my tear ducts. Apparently the way they learn this is by taking…read the rest


Embracing Powerlessness, prt. 2

In my previous post I tried to clearly show that the path to peace is to embrace powerlessness. I showed that we have very little power over most of the things we care most deeply about. The question is how do we actually embrace powerlessness? The answer is as common as it is profound: by acting powerless.

Gestalt Therapy uses a technique called “acting as if.” This is where the therapist tells the client to act as if he/she is already the person he/she wishes to be. If he struggles to speak to women, he should act for a while like men act who do not struggle to speak to women. If she struggles with confidence, she should act like women who have confidence. This is what is often called, “fake it ’til you make it.”

If what I wrote yesterday is true, and we actually are powerless over a great deal of our lives, then the sooner we embrace this the better. And the way we embrace powerlessness is by acting powerless.

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Embracing Powerlessness, prt. 4 — “Are you telling me to be a doormat?”

If you have read all the posts in this series, you may by now thinking that what I am suggesting here is that you simply give up and become a doormat; that you resign yourself to being walked on by everybody, letting life steamroll you, and settling for whatever scraps fall from everyone else’s table. That is the furthest thing from what I am suggesting.

Embracing powerlessness is all about attitude. It is not throwing your hands up and saying, “I give up, what the hell, I’m never gonna get anything anyway.” Truly embracing powerlessness leads to also embracing the places and situations where you can really effect change. It is not a hopeless surrender to the relentless tides of the world. It is knowing that, even if the tides should carry you away, you can still have peace and happiness. Anything less is not truly embracing powerlessness, for despair and hopelessness suggest that you have still not let go of the idea that life owes you something.

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Embracing Powerlessness

There is freedom in embracing powerlessness. Most of the time we’re scurrying around trying to fix things — relationships, issues at work, problems with the cars, problems at our kids’ schools — our lives seem like a bewildering array of problems, all of which we believe we have to fix. We believe this deeply enough that we can hardly think of anything worse than not being able to fix something.

But there is freedom in it. As long as I think I have to fix something, I will struggle to fix it. Every time I try and fail, I will feel frustrated, guilty, weak, pathetic, stupid, incompetent, or a host of other negative things. But when I realize that there are things I can’t fix, and stop trying, I find freedom and peace.

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photo by csft via Flickr

I was wondering today what is it that accounts for the fact that almost without exception every pastor wrestles with the size of his/her church. I don’t know a single one (including myself) who doesn’t go home feeling elated on days when a lot of people are there, and depressed if attendance is low. I also don’t know a single one who doesn’t hate that fact about him/herself.

Today I realized why this is an issue. We can say whatever we want about how “our culture says this and that” about success and popularity, but the problem is not the culture. Pastors, do you hear me? The problem is not the culture. The problem is the extent to which we pastors have swallowed it. That’s our responsibility. Could you drink a glass of water, swish it around in your mouth, and hope to keep one particular tooth from getting wet? Of course not. When we pastors sit and talk about how much pull the culture has on us regarding our attendance, what we must realize is that that is only one small area where the culture holds sway over us. If it didn’t largely hold sway everywhere, it would not hold sway in this one area. This particular tooth is getting wet because we’re swishing the culture around and of course it’s going to affect absolutely everything.

And of course our “solution” is the same for this as it typically is for everything else. Try harder. Acknowledge the pull of the culture. Pray about it. Try to somehow talk yourself out of being at the end of this ridiculous chain that bounces up and down every week (if my church is full, I feel great about myself — if it is empty, I feel lousy about myself). But pastors, you know exactly what I know in this regard — that does not work. It simply does not work. (Neither does any of the rest of the “just try harder to deal with such and such” advice we give to our parishioners.) Just like we pastors are at the mercy of the culture when it comes to our feelings of self-worth in our church, so our people are at the mercy of the culture when it comes to many things in their lives.

Therefore, pastors, there is really only one thing we can do. That is, if we’d actually like to do something that works. I mean, of course we can redouble our efforts, right? That’s what we’ve been doing the last ten or twenty years, and we’re still as depressed by low numbers (whether in attendance or offerings) now as we were ten or twenty years ago, aren’t we? Be honest! So barring more repetition of what doesn’t work, there’s only one thing to do, and that is engage in practices that will begin to give the entire culture the old heave-ho in our lives that it deserves. Jesus specifically said we are not to seek out positions of power or prominence, and we know this, but it conflicts drastically with the Western male drive to climb the ladder and be successful. (Since most pastors are still men, this is a big problem.) We cannot live according to the dictates of our culture in nearly all ways, and then expect to be able to reject the dictates that apply to our jobs and congregations.

The Apostle James declared that the person who is able to control the tongue is a nearly perfect person — able to keep his whole body in check. His point, of course, was that that is how hard it is to control the tongue. It’s the last thing to be tamed and when you’ve tamed it, you’ve probably arrived. Likewise with our acquiescence to the culture around us. When we get to where we are no longer significantly troubled by fluctuating numbers in our churches, that will be a sign that we have rejected the culture almost completely and are listening exclusively to the voice of Jesus, getting our feelings of adequacy and acceptance from him only.

Is it possible, pastors, that this is one of the main gifts we have to give to our congregations? After all, they — like us — are each called to a cross; to the narrow way of suffering and letting go of ego (“flesh,” “self,” etc.) So are you tapping into another value system? Are you learning to live in the present moment with God, where you are fully accepted and loved at every instant? Are you coming more and more to identify with the suffering and powerlessness of God? Or are you continuing to hope against hope that you can simply “not let the numbers bother” you? Time for us to get honest, my brothers — and sisters. It does bother us, and very deeply at that. Let this be a sign to us that what we have been doing isn’t working, and that more of what doesn’t work is not what we need.

Let us stop fighting and striving and let us — perhaps some for the first time — embrace our powerlessness. For God is in our lack of power, not simply in order to turn around and make us strong again, but to be present to us and assure us that — like we say all the time but don’t usually believe — he truly is enough for us, and his grace is made perfect not in strength, but in weakness.

QUESTIONS FOR PASTORS: Are you sick of being “on the chain?” What can be done about it other than more of what doesn’t work? How do we embrace powerlessness?

QUESTIONS FOR NON-PASTORS: What has control over your emotions? What keeps you from finding your worth and confidence in God? How do you embrace powerlessness in that area of your life?