Preacher, teach thyself.
If you’ve been to any of the services I’ve preached this Lent, you’ll see a common theme. I’ve really been pushing the church to take a look at our own deep neediness. On Ash Wednesday we spoke of mortality as a recognition that we are not God, we are finite creatures and we need God. During our centering prayer accountablity group, we spoke about our need for the Holy Spirit to give us the patience for centering prayer. In our Lenten Devotional we spoke about our need for God rather than self-righteousness, power, or wealth.
In short, we are deeply needy. We need God because our own efforts always fall short. God’s work is God’s and we are joyfully obedient when we participate in it.
Well this past week I came down with a cold. This was not a sniffles and cough annoyance, but a body ache, exhausted, two-boxes-of-tissues, crawl-into-bed-on-Wednesday-night-and-don’t-emerge-for-3-days kind of cold. This cold was most likely due to my own immuno-arrogance (I’m totally not going to get sick, I’m super healthy, no need for any precautions even though literally everyone else is sick).
There is nothing like an exhausting sickness to remind you of your neediness. I am not a “good” sick person. And I’m an even worse sick person when I know there are things I have to do that I’m not able to. I would start the day attempting to do work and thought I might trick my body into thinking we were all better if I did a lot of work really fast. What ended up happening was half-finished, terrible work and then I would crawl back into bed, grumbling. I did manage to write a sermon, but it was the only thing I accomplished all week and it just about killed me.
About the third day of not-accomplishing-anything I was lying on the couch trying to will myself into health. I had already called my mom, an oncology nurse, and explained how terrible-awful my life was because of The Cold. Her loving response was, “Quit whining, it’s a virus, there’s nothing you can do, just wait it out.” Nothing I could do? I think not! I would make myself better by consuming obscene amounts of vitamin C, constantly drinking water and calmly explaining to my immune system:
“Look, immune system, I know you’re busy right now but I really need to get better immediately. I don’t think you understand, I’m the only person on staff at church and if I don’t do my work, then everything is going to be terrible. This intentional community project will fail, the church building will probably fall down, everyone will tell everyone else what a terrible pastor I am and, look, we both know I have an English degree and I don’t have a whole lot to fall back on.”
Did I say I was a terrible sick person? It manifests itself in unreasonable and catastrophic imaginings of the future. My immune system of course replied with this: “Sorry, we cannot respond at the moment. We are currently fighting a virus and have our hands full. We will respond to you when we are able. Thanks!”
Frustrated to no end I finally came to terms with the fact that there was nothing I could do. I was sick and I had to rest until I got better. My efforts could not make this virus go away any faster and stressing about it wasn’t going to do any good.
I finally felt better Saturday evening, which wasn’t great because then I spent the entire night before church tossing and turning. My mind doing something like this: “I feel so unprepared, I haven’t done anything all week, all I’ve managed to do was write my sermon, Oh no! Look at the time! I have to go to sleep right now or I’ll stay sick forever!”
Well, church came, we had service, and nothing catastrophic happened. The project went on without my efforts, the church was still standing, the service went well, we worshiped together, fellowshipped together, had our accountability group for our centering prayer and discussed our community initiatives. All of which happened even though I had very little energy to put forth any effort this week. And then I remembered…right, it’s not about me, my talents or my effort. This whole thing is about Jesus.
We need God. We have these bodies that are mortal, that break down, that get sick. And because of that, we also need each other. This week I needed my fellow church members and lay leaders and they were there, they were present without me even asking. They brought me donuts, they carried the discussion in our Book Study, they prayed, they sang, they worshiped and it was another reminder that what we do Sunday morning, what we do in the house, is not due to any one person’s efforts.
What happens when we worship and pray and live together is simply a yes to God. Yes to the invitation to be a part of God’s efforts. A recognition of our own neediness can go a long way to clearing out the self-deception of self-sufficiency. It makes a space for God to pick up where we left off; where we aren’t enough; where we lack. So as we continue our centering prayer and our Lenten disciplines, I invite us all to contemplate our neediness and to begin to see it as a gift; a way of recognizing God in our lives and work. I invite you to need God and to be blessed for joy of it.