It’s All My Mother’s Fault

Two months ago I got pneumonia. It took me three weeks before I thought to ask for prayer. For twenty-one days I asked not a soul: not my family, friends, church, or wife. I didn’t even ask me to pray for me. Finally, in a burst of spiritual spontaneity, I asked a friend in a PS tacked onto an email, and he asked my church. In less than a week, I was feeling considerably better.

My 23 year-old mom on her honeymoon.

My 23 year-old mom on her honeymoon.

Coincidence? After all, I had also finally visited my doctor, then taken a course of antibiotics, and I had rested for three and a half weeks. That’s probably all it takes anyway.

Yet it left me convicted about my lack of prayer. I seldom initiate intercession. If someone else asks me to pray for them, I usually do so (often, though, with just a hasty word or two). Rarely do I have the idea to pray for someone else, as in, “Hey, let’s pray for your work situation that’s causing such angst.” The idea of intercession doesn’t cross my mind.

Last Wednesday, my email reader Outlook stopped syncing with my Gmail accounts. When I woke up, I noticed synchronization errors and tried to fix them. I spent the next ninety minutes googling the error message, and changing port numbers and encryption methods. Nothing worked. I restored all my original settings, and the same error message mocked me once more.

I chatted with my wife for a bit (mostly about my morning’s irritations) and headed back to my synchronization headache. On the way, I remembered that I’m trying to remember to pray for help. So I dashed off a quick prayer, God, I’m frustrated; please fix Outlook for me.

When I got to my desk, Outlook and Gmail were syncing great once again. Coincidence? Maybe.

Shame is Nothing to be Ashamed of

Popular, secular therapy proclaims the evils of shame. It’s wrong. Sure, shame is misused and abused, but deep-shame—deep shame alone—offers our only hope of grace-based healing. As J. I. Packer once suggested, “Seek the grace to be ashamed.” (This is a response to the anti-shame rant in the world around us.)

Shame

Scripture tells two stories of boatload catches of fish, the first at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 5:4-8) and the second at the end (John 21:2-7). In both stories:

  • Professional fishermen fish all night.
  • Their night of fishing is fruitless; not a single fish is caught.
  • The following morning, an amateur offers unsolicited and unusual directions.
  • The fishermen obey and catch so many fish that their boats begin to sink.

Despite their similarities, there is one, huge difference. After the first miracle, Peter exclaims to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” After the second, Peter casts himself into the sea and breaks an Olympic-record-freestyle to get close to Jesus.

What changed in Peter that drove him to Jesus? He had finally experienced deep shame.

The Self-Love Trap

I had a high school friend who was insecure, socially awkward, and overweight. He envied the skills (and good looks) of classmates; he vilified himself for his frequent social blunders; and he castigated himself for his shortcomings.

Sad student r2

My friend, however, was in the top five percent of the honors class of a magnet, honors high school; he just never reached the top one percent. And he was the second chair trumpet of a nationally recognized orchestra; he just never made first chair.

Despite his many successes, he saw others do better and it discouraged him. My heart went out to him. We became friends, and in the lunchroom I listened as he told story after story of how students, teachers, and his parents misunderstood him.

His discouragement deepened into depression, and he finally sought a counselor. The counselor said his problem was self-hatred, and that he needed to grow his self-love.

I thought he loved himself too much.

And I still think so

Fifty Shades of Denial

I’m not surprised that bondage/sadomasochistic sex is practiced. I’m surprised that we are no longer embarrassed. Everyone has embarrassing behaviors (especially thoughts), but we practice them behind closed doors. If we must perform our shameful acts in public, we disguise them, like wrapping brown paper bags around our open beer bottles.

Drinking from a brown paper bag

I had not heard of Fifty Shades of Grey until someone emailed me an article from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation about a real-life man who practiced BDSM. (He later arranged the strangulation of his wife after she refused to participate in his sadomasochistic sex fantasies.)

Since then I have read a score of articles about Fifty Shades of Grey with differing slants:

  • Most secular articles were in favor, essentially agreeing with the movie producer, who said, “People are not that prudish anymore;”
  • A few secular articles were opposed; one article basically read, “Finally! An issue leftist feminists and right-wing Christians can agree upon;”
  • And all the Christian articles basically said, “Just don’t do it. Or read it. Or watch it.”

But thousands of people read the book in public—no paper bags—and tens of thousands of people publicly watched the movie. Its opening weekend brought in $81.7 million dollars, the second-biggest February opening of all time (ironically, second only to The Passion of Christ).

Amazingly, 68% of the movie’s attendees were women, even though—in the words of one article—“In the final analysis, it is always women who suffer most at the hands of violent sex.”

How did we get here, where our private disgraces are now brazenly displayed on our rooftops?

The Legacy Temptation

I’ve been sick for the last month. Sniffles turned into bronchitis; bronchitis became pneumonia; and the pneumonia was accompanied by a gut wrenching nausea. I was sick, in bed, too tired to think or pray. A walk to the kitchen for a sip of water left me gasping for air.

footprints left

And I felt drained emotionally. All my life to date felt inconsequential, like I’d played a good game of chess but was checkmated in the end. Game over.

I often think negative thoughts when I’m sick so I try not to take them too seriously; but I also feel more honest. My self-protection filters are lowered, I have less pretense. And in this illness I saw a longing in my heart that I usually hide away, a desire with too much control.

I want my life to bear fruit; to make a difference; to leave a legacy; to know that this earth was better for me having lived here. I want a name, a sense of significance, to know that my life mattered.

Is that so bad? I never thought so before, but now I question it. Today I feel better physically, but I also feel a smarter spiritually, and I think my desire for a legacy has been a misdirection.

What I most need is a deeper—more real—relationship with God.

How Christian is Modern Self-Esteem?

The Times of London once asked leading British intellectuals to write an article that answered this simple question: “What is the biggest problem with the world?” G. K. Chesterton submitted his essay on a postcard,

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely,
G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton I Am

Over the last thirty years, therapists have taught us to “like ourselves a lot” and to hold a “high opinion of our capacities.” They taught us that people with high self-esteem tend to be socially well-adjusted and those with low self-esteem tend toward social deviance. (Their teachings came in the form of proclamations not proofs.)

Yet cracks are forming in the self-esteem movement. Lauren Slater, a leading psychologist and writer, casts doubts on today’s self-esteem crusaders,

There is enough evidence from 20 years of studies to conclude that people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to people around them than people with low self-esteem, and low self-esteem is not the source of any of our country’s biggest problems (The Problem with Self-Esteem).

Chesterton would whole-heartedly agree with Slater’s observation, that “Low self-esteem is not the source of any of our country’s biggest problems.”

Because we are.

What Is The Essence of Worship?

Several years ago, I joined a local business organization. Their stated intention was to help business people do their job better; a kind of coaching through semi-monthly seminars.

Contemporary Worship

At the opening and close of each session, we sang a song that went something like this: “Yes, I can do it; Yes, I can do it; I have a positive frame of mind.” (I kid you not—truth is stranger than fiction.) By the end of the evening, every face was aglow with expectation; and two weeks later, everybody needed another face-lift.

I also found their teachings to be less substance and more selling. Instead of nourishing tips on handling angry clients, I received frothy, double-shot lattes of motivational, positive thinking. The talks were inspiring but insubstantial; caffeine without fruit or vegetables. Or protein.

Then I began to wonder how close my worship-music experience paralleled that seminar jingle feeling; maybe a boost to my spirits to face another week, but mostly just a jolt of java.

Bear with me. Worshipful music is wonderful. But I began to examine the nature of worship. I asked myself, “What is the essence of worship? Does worship require music?”

I tried an experiment: I took a six month sabbatical from any form of worship music—personal prayer time, worship CD’s, and even singing during a church service—and I found I love it.

Song-free worship taught me how to worship better.