i preached at the three services of my home church this past weekend, on ‘god-given emotions’.
the backstory: last fall, after i was laid off, i was in full emotional freeze. i could barely feel anything, because the various feelings were just too overwhelming to me. i saw a therapist for a handful of sessions, and that was helpful. but i knew i needed to get away, by myself, and ‘honor’ the emotions, give them room to breathe. so i headed out to a cabin in the california dessert for 6 days of silence. it was a profound time for me, both in processing my stuff, and in re-orienting me for whatever was next. i gave an entire day to each of five emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. i entered into them — welcomed them — and felt them. then i put words to them (via journalling). particularly since i was in a sparse, holy-feeling dessert, surrounded by nothing but overwhelming silence, it was fairly easy for these entire days to feel like prayer. i also believed, and sometimes i knew, that god was present in that process, and that my journalling was as much of a prayer as any of david’s more emotional psalms.
speaking of david’s emotional psalms — i love how ‘inappropriate’ some of them are. seriously.
anyhow. i’d never intended that journal to be read or heard by anyone, other than my wife. but a few weeks later, the college pastor of my church asked me to preach in the college service (this was early december), and to tell something of the life of a biblical character and how my own story was paralleling that biblical story (that was the series they were in). after wrestling with it for a bit, i realized it would be inauthentic to speak about anything other than david and my emotions, since it was the overwhelming, almost singular, aspect of my story at the time. knowing that it was a group of young adults who would not be freaked out by the rawness of my journal entries, i took a risk and tried something new: i tried to model the point rather than exposit the point. first, a guy shared his own story of being distanced from his emotions for years, and the process of awakening. then, 5 readers read davidic psalms i chose that embodied those five emotions (and they read them with that full emotion in their voices). after each psalm, i read a selection of my journal entry. a shared a few quick thoughts on emotions at the end, how they’re a gift from god, and part of our ‘made in the image of god’-ness, and how attempting to ‘hide’ them from god is a joke, and actually dishonoring to god (since god already knows them).
that sermon, back in early december, seemed to resonate with people, and was helpful to many of them.
but then, when i was slated to preach in ‘big church’, the programming team asked if i would repeat that sermon. i balked. it was too private, too personal. and, all these months later, i wasn’t sure i wanted to go back to those emotions again. but i sensed that i should do it, so i agreed, with three conditions: 1. they would not podcast the sermon (sorry!); 2. the guy who shared his story prior to my sermon would share it again; and 3. the same 5 young adult psalms readers would participate with me again.
so, that’s what i/we did this weekend. i slightly edited my journal entries, taking them from an r-rating to a pg-rating. and i added a new addendum to the whole thing, since my life is very different today than it was 7 months ago.
here’s my post about my time in the dessert, with a few super-mini excerpts from the journal.
and here’s my post from last december when i preached this sermon in our college-age service, with the psalms i selected and other stuff.
here’s the new addendum i added this time around:
An afterword: i went on a silent retreat a few weeks ago, and spent a chunk of time taking stock of my life now — where i’m at compared with where i was last fall. and i experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Not ONE of my fears, expressed in that journal entry, are being realized. I am deeply satisfied in the work God is giving me these days – speaking, writing, consulting with churches and ministries, and coaching youth workers. Amazingly, the bills are being paid, I’m having fun, I’m using my gifts, and I still get to wear shorts and t-shirts to work.
I’m NOT suggesting that everything is always easy. But I’ve come to a deeper understanding that the pattern of hope found in the Bible ALWAYS passes, first, through suffering, longing, and an honest cry to God. My honest and dark journey through difficult emotions has given me a sippy-cup of hope; and I can tell you it is a sweet, sweet nector.
in the end, it was an exhausting but good experience to look back and enter into those emotions again. it was a reminder of the road i’m on. a friend wrote to me recently something like, “it’s great to be able to look back and see that god was orchestrating all of that.” but i don’t see it that way. i certainly don’t want to ‘blame’ god for what i went through. seriously, it would be tough to think that god ‘orchestrated’ all of that! however, it’s clear to me that god was with me; and that god was present; and that god was bringing good out of an otherwise crappy situation.
(photos courtesy of dan matticks)