working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

Posts tagged ‘anxiety’

Beyond setting an example

All my life, I’ve been told that Lutherans evangelize (share the Good News of Jesus) by setting a good example. Our lives are supposed to be so compelling that people will notice our peace and love and joy and simply flock to church to get some of that for themselves. In the 80’s, the ELCA launched a media campaign with photos of a variety of people in their work clothes with the tag line, “You may live next to a Lutheran and not even know it.” We were proud to be anonymous, perhaps as a reaction to the drama of TV evangelists at that time. But the plan continued. In 2002, as a newly ordained pastor, I ordered the latest evangelism DVD, planning to train my parishioners to share their faith more openly in the world. The video arrived, and as I previewed it, I discovered that the entire 15 minute show was void of talking. There was background music with images of Lutherans living their lives, anonymously doing good works, with no reference to how we talk to people about our experience of God’s love. Apparently, we doubled down on our silent evangelism plan.

Leading my first yoga class

Leading my first yoga class

As I began my training as a yoga instructor, I fell into the same trap. I was comfortable on my yoga mat. I could even feel ok about putting that mat in front of a group and going through my own yoga routine for my class to watch. I felt safe on my own mat, experiencing the power and grace of my practice. I was growing stronger and finding inner peace, but what about my students? When I finally looked up, I realized that several of them were floundering, unsure of what pose I was instructing, unclear about where to fold or stretch or twist. Clearly, I had some work to do.

Studying Haley's Trikonasana (triangle pose)

Studying Haley’s Trikonasana (triangle pose)

First, I worked on my language. I had the images of the poses in my mind and the feel of the poses in my body, but I didn’t have the words to convey to others. So I turned to my manual that listed all the steps needed for every pose. I read through the steps, not as a student, but as a teacher. How would I describe that move? Would I use that phrase or would I say it a little differently? As I worked through those decisions, I came up with my own version of the instructions. Then I wrote down my version. I recorded my version. I listened to my version. I began to internalize my own instructions, the description of how the poses work. But I still wasn’t fully ready to get off the mat.

Assisting Linda with Ardha Sarvangasana (half shoulder stand)

Assisting Linda with Ardha Sarvangasana (half shoulder stand)c

It took a lot of courage, a lot of prayer, a lot of deep breaths to take the next step. I had to leave the comfort of my own practice and my personal experience. I couldn’t stay loftily apart on my mat in front of my students. I had to be with them, among them, beside them. I had to learn how to give instructions and then help them follow. I learned which points on the body could lead to a more extended spine, a more comfortable bend, and a deeper twist. And then I had to reach out and touch the people I was trying to help (always asking permission first.)

Helping Linda achieve a deeper stretch in Matsyasana (fish pose)

Helping Linda achieve a deeper stretch in Matsyasana (fish pose)

And after I had finally developed a close relationship with my students (my fellow teachers-in-training), I got to practice even deeper assists. I learned where to place my hands on my student and how to position my legs to protect my back so that I could give this amazing assist for fish pose that feels like a massage on the lower back. I was helping people, really helping where they needed it.

30,000 Lutherans in Detroit!

30,000 Lutherans in Detroit!

Today I’m at the airport after spending the weekend with 30,000 Lutherans in Detroit at the Youth Gathering. For the past three days in a row, groups of youth and adults have blanketed the city, cleaning up parks and planting flowers and boarding up abandoned houses with murals painted at the activity center. And the best part is that they were doing all of this alongside the neighborhoods’ residents. Moms and sons, uncles and grandparents, daughters and friends all turned out to partner with these kids in Skittle-colored T-shirts who came to show God’s love. For some of these Lutherans, traveling to inner-city Detroit to help strangers is a stretch. And for most of them, finding the words to share why they would come so far to do so much is terrifying. My hope and prayer is that along the way, they were able to find their own language, their own version of the gospel story, and share it with confidence and authenticity. Because it’s when we get off our mats and out among our neighbors that we truly discover the power of God alive within us, empowering us to share the story of Christ’s transforming love with the world.

living day – to – day

I don’t know about where you are, but around here, we’re all exhausted.

It’s the end of the first week of classes at TLU, and everyone is frazzled. This makes me happy. Why? Because I don’t feel so bad about being frazzled myself. Everything is new for me – the names of the buildings, the code names for the groups on campus, the names and faces of students, faculty, and staff, and this week, especially, the pace of life on campus. And taking in all this newness is wearing me out. It’s been all I can do to show up to events on time, in the right place, and with whatever presentation or sermon already thought out.

It’s not like I’m some incredibly prepared person on a regular basis. Since becoming a mom, and a single mom at that, I regularly find myself in procrastination mode, throwing events together at the last minute, finishing a sermon just before putting on my alb to lead worship. And as a former perfectionist, I’ve come to terms with that reality. But the last couple of weeks have been worse than usual. Each morning I wake up and check the calendar: what am I supposed to lead today? And each night I fall into bed thinking “I hope there’s not something huge happening tomorrow morning that I should have planned for.” All I can do is whatever I’m supposed to do today. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I can’t think about all I’ll have to do later on. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

But in the midst of my panicky planning for the presentation I’m giving in 1 hour, a beautiful thing has happened: I’ve been living in the moment. Everything I’ve been doing is for right now. All of my conversations are about what’s going on today, what’s happening next. And in focusing my attention and heart and brain power on what’s right in front of me, my anxiety level has dropped. I’ve realized that all I can do is what I’m doing, and so my focus has been extra-sharp. I’ve eased up on trying to make everything spectacular, and so my fear of failure has been replaced with joy in the moment. I’ve been dependent on others to accomplish each project, and so I’m filled with gratitude for the student leaders and faculty and staff who are helping me along.

Being present in the moment wasn’t my goal. Getting through a crazy schedule of events was my goal. But instead of trying to seize control of every detail and manipulate every outcome, I just let go and trusted that the Spirit would work through whatever effort I had to give. And that letting go and being present has made all the difference.

rainbow in New Braunfels, TX

rainbow in New Braunfels, TX

Driving to yet another campus event last night, I pulled out of my driveway only to discover a beautiful rainbow in front of me. I could have missed it if my mind had been working out curriculum for next Wednesday’s Grace Place Bible study or my next sermon for Sunday night worship. But I wasn’t. I was there, enjoying a moment in the car with my son, and noticing a small rainbow in the sky. I’m glad I didn’t miss it, because rainbows are one more reminder that God is ever present in our world, in each and every moment.

Praying for all of us, that we can live in the present moment, and participate in God’s gracious action in the world.

 

abundant life means taking risks

I’m not a cook. Food is fuel to me, not something to be fussed about. I make simple meals – grilled chicken with steamed veggies, for example – and I’m satisfied. I’ve discovered that I enjoy hosting parties, but since I’m not a cook, I usually serve appetizers and call it good. So on Ash Wednesday, when I realized that there was no one scheduled to make dinner for Messy Church on Thursday, I panicked. We were expecting 15 or so people, and they would be expecting food. What in the world was I going to do?

I didn’t have time to make a million phone calls to recruit help with dinner. I thought about just picking up pizza on the way, but we’ve been trying to offer healthy choices for our families and kids at Messy Church. I realized that I was going to have to make the meal. I was going to have to cook.

For most other people in the world, this would not have been a big deal. But for me, it was a nightmare. I anxiously perused my cookbooks (people give them to me, not knowing that they’ll never get used.) I obsessed about how many choices I would need to offer. Even after I settled on 2 types of chili (the simplest recipes I could find,) I stressed about what would happen if people didn’t like them. Then, since I’ve never made a meal for more than 4 people, I got anxious about how to serve such a large quantity of food. I had a crock pot, but it was the small version. And how was I going to keep a second pot of chili hot, driving all the way across town? Finally I took my crazy self to Target and impulsively bought a new, portable crock pot guaranteed to serve 9 people. Perfect.

Throughout the afternoon I doubted myself, alternately panicking and cursing myself for not going the pizza route. I made a mess of my kitchen, screamed at my dog who was underfoot, and just barely escaped injury from the oven (corn muffins at the last minute.) We arrived at Messy Church, crock pots in hand, and dinner was served. I said a heartfelt prayer to God that the dinner wouldn’t suck (language cleaned up for the kiddos) and then held my breath as people went through the line.

You know how the story ends. Dinner was fine. Both chilis were well received. No one got sick. No one went hungry. 

But it was so hard to see that from the front end. I was trying something new. I was doing something that I wasn’t already good at. I had no idea how it would turn out. And it made me feel out of control.

But then, I realized, that’s what abundant life is all about. It’s about leaving the safety of the guaranteed outcome, and embracing new life, new possibilities, new hope. 

Blessings on your risk-taking. If anyone wants some chili, I’ve got leftovers!

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