Sunday, February 6, 2011

Still waters run deep...

 In my Grounded in God class last semester we learned how to practice discernment processes in a group setting. It's one thing to be able to talk to God and to listen to God on one's own, it's another animal all together to do it in the company of others.
The truth is that we cannot and should not function in a vacuum. God speaks to us using the voices of others, and often when we feel as if we've reached a stalemate talking to and listening to God on our own, we will receive new and clarifying insights from the people around us. When a thought or direction has become muddled in our own mind, God may use the mind of another to untangle that knot for us. Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to realize that we had the answer all along.

In our Grounded in God class we participated in "Clearness Committees." The class was divided into groups of 4-6 members, and within each group one person was designated to be the "focus person" each week. The focus person is given 3-5 minutes to share a concern or situation that is in need of discernment, the other group members are given 1 minute to ask clarifying questions, and then the focus person remains silent for 8-10 minutes while the other members of the group offer up comments or possible questions for the focus person to consider. It is all done in a very contemplative, prayerful manner. After each session my classmates often expressed amazement at what had come to light within their groups. The focus person came away with a new found clarity and those who acted as listeners and commentators felt as if that their responses were coming from not just from within them, but from somewhere outside of them. It was often said that the Holy Spirit was present in the room.

Over the course of the semester the members of our group got to know each other fairly well. On the last day of class our Professor asked us to take some time and to turn to each person in our group and tell them what gifts they have to bring to ministry and what gifts we had seen them bring to our group. One member of the group wrote down each gift that was mentioned and each person received a written list of their gifts, along with the suggestion that we pull out the list and read it whenever we begin to doubt that we have what it takes to do this messy work that is ministry.

My list looked like this:

Never Flustered
Contagious Smile
Sense of Humor
Anchored & Steady
Very Loyal
Peaceful & Loving

I had a very strange reaction to receiving this list. While my classmates spoke of coveting their lists and made plans to refer to them for years to come, I wanted to hide mine away.
I hated it. It made me cringe.
All I saw was what wasn't on there:
Good listener. Insightful. Inspirational. Helpful. Kind. Compassionate.
Others in our group had been told they had these gifts, and I've been told in the past that I have them, but for some reason I wanted them to be on this list.
This list that I'm supposed to keep for prosperity.

And, moreover, I found myself cringing over what WAS on the list.
Grounded. Anchored. Stable. Steady. Loyal.
When I hear these words I think of only one thing: BORING.
Blah. Blend into the background. Forgettable.
The words on my list are often used to describe the strong silent types who are hard to read.
In fact, earlier in the class one woman took the time to thank each member of the class individually for what they had to contribute during the semester, and when she got to me she said, "Maureen, you're so quiet, I feel like I never got to know you, yet I feel this amazing power, energy, and strength coming from you."
What a wonderful thing to say.
And yet all I heard was, "You're so quiet, I feel like I don't know you."

This is the anchor around my neck.
The persona that I'm trying so hard to let go of.
I've always been the quiet one. The reliable one. The grounded and predictable one.
The one that very few people have the opportunity to truly get to know.
I am an enigma to many, and to myself.
I stand up in the pulpit or in front of the congregation and a switch gets thrown inside of me and suddenly I am a preacher.
I lob witticisms on facebook and participate in online conversations that allow me to channel the creative and silly side of me that many never see in person.
People come up to me at school and express surprise at something I've written - a sermon posted on my blog, a funny crack on facebook. "I would never have expected something like that to come out of you," they say, "You're so quiet and reserved most of the time."

This is the person I want to let go of.
Oh how I envy those who carry these words around with them: spontaneous, adventurous, dramatic, expressive, unpredictable, fun-loving!
Instead I am grounded, anchored, stable, steady, loyal.

Now I fully realize that these gifts that others see in me are an asset for one seeking to enter the ministry. I have often been told that I embody the idea of a "non-anxious presence" - that I can get mixed up in other people's stuff and let it roll off of me without reacting to it and becoming a part of the drama myself.
And I can also see how being spontaneous, dramatic and unpredictable could be a detriment for someone entering the ministry. As these traits can often lead to flightiness, disorganization and unreliability.

So what am I whining about?
Why am I so bugged out because my classmates described me as being grounded and steady?

Because I keep letting my ego get in the way.
Because ever since God started leading me into the ministry and I discovered that I had a voice I've been fighting against my proclivities to use it.
My instinct is to be fearful. To run. To clam up. To withhold. To stay in the background.
And I am so proud of myself whenever I overcome those instincts and stand up and speak.
Whenever I muster the strength to stick my hand up in a crowd and dare others to pay attention to what I have to say. 
To be labeled as quiet, steady, reliable, predictable is to take a step backwards.

It pushes my buttons.
The buttons that say, "I'm not special."

It's a funny thing to be a preacher.
To listen to others tell you how "wonderful" your message was or how "gifted" you are at writing and delivering a sermon....And all the while trying to keep forefront in your mind that it's not you.
The words don't come from me. The message doesn't come from me.
Yes, I'm in there somewhere. My experiences. My perspective. My love of metaphor and storytelling. But the message comes from somewhere outside of me. There's some Holy Spirit mojo going on that causes my jumbled mess of stories, observations, and exegesis to coagulate into a coherent and effective sermon, often at the eleventh hour.
There's some divine force that causes me to step into a pulpit, look the congregation in the eye and dare to speak what I have written when I've spent most of my life staring at my shoes and keeping my mouth shut.

I keep running from myself.
I'm running from who I was, and who I still am in many ways.
But when my classmates hold up a mirror and those words that I've rejected are reflected back at me I have to accept that there's a message from God in there somewhere.
Perhaps I'm meant to discover that being grounded and reliable does not automatically mean that one is boring and forgettable.
That being the quiet one does not mean that one does not have a voice.
That being the strong silent type is not a negative personality trait, it's just one of the many paths that God created for us to walk in this world.

I'm taking a second look at that list that I was given.
And noticing that it is written in the wide, looping handwriting of a classmate whom I respect and love.
She added "Peaceful & Loving" at the bottom of the list even though it wasn't spoken aloud.

We cannot and should not function in a vacuum.
We may tie ourselves into knots trying to discern what it is that God is trying to tell us when we sit down and have a one on one conversation.
What we --- I ----need to keep in mind is that God speaks to us through others.
Sometimes I need to set my expectations and my ego aside - and just listen.


Wendy said...

My high school newspaper adviser wrote in my yearbook, "It was so nice having your stable personality on the staff." ::sigh:: Hold close the people who see the real you behind the reserve. We know it's there. And hurray for the woman who added peaceful and loving. (this is coming from an almost fellow INFJ--I run IXFJ.) I laugh and cry when I give a presentation or am observed as a teacher and people are surprised that I am poised and witty and pretty darn good at what I do.

MoCat said...

Thank you, Wendy!
You and many others have let me know that I'm not alone. The most encouraging words came from my professor who told me that the list of "gifts" she receives when she does this exercise with others looks very similar to mine. It's wonderful to hear that I'm in such good company. :)
Love your blog!