In case you don't know much about me, I am a very good and spiritual person. Really, that is what people think, and I hate to disappoint them. I am a leader in our church group. I teach and pray and give life advice and take theology courses that boggle the average person's mind and openly admit to loving reading the Bible and talking to God (and it's true!). I show up early to meetings and set up and clean up and provide snacks and plan events and have people over to my house for meals and do all kinds of wonderful stuff for others. And most of the time I love it. But there are days...
For the past few months I have been having a rough time at the Wednesday group that I lead. Each week I spend a few hours preparing a discussion and activities on a topic, or thinking up cool stuff for a fun night that will bring joy and a sense of community and encouragement to all who come. I usually get really excited at this point and can't wait to get there. But by the time the evening is done, I am pretty much close to tears and just want to quit it all. Sometimes I feel like nobody got anything out of it. Sometimes I grind my teeth in annoyance at some of the behaviour I witness and sad to say, am unable to withhold some looks and snorts and words of derision (sorry if you have been the recipient of any of those). Some days I want to smack some folks over the head because they are being such jerks (from my perspective, of course). Some evenings I wonder if I know anything at all because so much of what I say or do seems to be tainted with an agenda that smells of superiority and sweaty effort to get people to change to be more to my liking. Some days, after a really meaningful time of preparation, I get to the group and listen to myself babble on and on while I see people talking to each other and laughing at private jokes and making plans for cool stuff to do later. Many days I wonder if anyone really wants to do this except me. And now I don't know if I want to do this either.
I know that to some degree, I set the tone in a group, so while all these horrible thoughts are playing through my mind in an endless house music loop, I feel guilty about my shameful thoughts and lack of grace. There is this urge to wail out with loud weeping, yell out my frustrations, and maybe even break something, I might feel better. But I am a very good and spiritual person. So I keep it inside, so as not to offend or freak out or bring anybody down.
But there comes a point where one just gets tired of trying to manage the war within. The struggle to be good is not working. There seems to be no progress, no getting over the hump, no relief from the pain and the hurt and the destructive thoughts. And at that point, I am finally desperate enough to say, Okay God, show me where I am off, show me the worm-eaten core where all this stinking stuff is coming from. And I get the feeling that I have been living with some twisted lie for a long time, letting it inhabit a room in my soul, letting it hide behind a certain sense of justice in order to avoid discovery. Yes, uncover me, I say. And then the awful truth comes out.
I want to be validated by this group. I invest a lot of my time and energy into these people and I think I deserve some payback for that. No one is as dedicated to this group as I am. Surely that merits some recognition, at least some pats on the back, a 'well done', some attention to what I am saying, some regular attendance and punctuality, and oh please, most of all, love me for it. Treat me as a special friend for all I do. Somebody tell me and show me how valuable I am. I have brought all my best stuff, isn't that worth something? Isn't that enough? Can't that buy me some love and acceptance and admiration?
Well, that's a pretty ugly animal when its greedy claws come out. Having seen the beast, I am initiating a siege. I am retraining my soul to know that its value does not come from the reactions of people nor from how much attention they pay to me. This is especially difficult with those people who are on the receiving end of a lot of my energies. It is hard not to demand some return where great investment is made. But I have learned the hard way that I am always disappointed when I go down that road, because the needy validation bugger is insatiable.
And so I lay siege. Whenever I feel the growling hunger of this selfish sabotaging monster, I sing the truth: My help comes from you, Lord. All I need is you, Lord, is you, Lord. And when I do, I can hear the sweet ping of tightly wound restrictive cords being broken. I have let myself be hindered for too many years. It is time to taste the freedom of giving without measuring.
This is one of the sharp knives doing what it is meant to do in my kitchen: cut out the inedible bits.