Friday, December 30, 2011

Two Thousand Eleven

I heard a few years ago, and I don't remember where, that within an average lifetime there are several years scattered throughout that have an impact far beyond any others. Obviously, events like marriage and children cause a year to be memorable for joyful reasons, but more often than not, years of tragedy and loss stand out most vividly.

Without a trace of melodrama or hyperbole, I can say that 2011 was such a year; one that as long as I live, I will never forget.

I will never forget what it was like to huddle under my desk while the room tossed and rattled on March 11.

I will never forget the worry, uncertainty and outright fear etched onto so many faces as the entire CAJ population gathered out onto the field and waited, not knowing exactly what had happened or if loved ones were safe, cut off from phone service and Internet access for an agonizing 20 minutes.

I will never forget the horror of watching live footage of the ocean sweeping away life and land.

I will never forget the disbelief and terror that pierced through the illusion of peace as the earth shook beneath the class of 2011 and us teachers in Thailand just two weeks later.

I will never forget the feeling of the wind being knocked from me as I was told that Taizor, one of those Seniors and my student, had died in a motorcycle crash on his way to school. Nor will I forget the weary feeling of grief that washed over me in the middle of an otherwise joyful summer as I read the email informing the CAJ staff of the death of Ethan, the 17-year old son of our Athletic Director.

Most of all, I will never forget what I learned about myself and my faith through these hard times.

I learned that I do not handle such fear and loss well--an observation about myself I simply never had occasion to make before. Cognitively, I understood and understand what a Godly response looks like and I think this awareness is reflected in the writing that I have done, but in practice I have time and again failed to respond faithfully. I have, so many times, chosen to avoid processing, to avoid dealing with my fear and my grief, instead fleeing and hiding. Even as I have expressed my understanding that I need to turn to God, I have consciously run and looked for distraction and escape in so many other places.

This was a painful realization that I came to while I was home in Washington during Christmas break. The night after Frodo (my dog) died, I stayed up late watching TV shows and playing a video game--well past two in the morning. I was tired, and I wanted to go to bed, but I knew that the instant I stopped distracting myself, I would be forced to think about the dog and in that moment I would need to deal with feelings of grief and sadness.

As my eyelids grew heavier, I knew I could not put the moment off forever. Wearily, I turned off my game, turned off the TV and opened my Bible. Before I even began reading (I am working my way through I Samuel again), I started sobbing. Yes, losing Frodo was the spark that brought me to this point, but many of the feelings that came up were ancient, long-ignored, from times during the year when I thought I needed to act brave or move on.

I shared this with my family after dinner the next day, Christmas eve--it was my turn to lead a short devotional after dinner, so I talked through what I had been feeling and what I was still feeling. As I spoke, it occurred to me that although it was discouraging to realize my lack of wisdom in coping mechanisms and my resistance to God through all of it, this represented the most thought and care I had invested in my faith. Ever.

I've been on spiritual auto-pilot for so long that spouting off rote answers and quoting verses and theology that I've memorized has come to feel natural. What I could not have reckoned was experiencing events where such mechanical responses are meaningless and ineffectual. This year, with all of its hardships, forced me to come face to face with my own spiritual laziness and my own weakness. Talking a good game means nothing in the crucible. My faith cannot be something that I keep on a shelf and only take down in certain situations, whether that be church, writing, or giving advice to students, because at that point it becomes centered around snippets and soundbites, and those have no substance, no real comfort or power. No... my faith needs to be something that I, weak and broken, cling to at all times.

I am very far from this being the case. However, I now see so clearly the distance that I cannot remain as I am. Spiritual auto-pilot is comfortable, easy; it's not real. My heart feels so clouded and numbed by a lifetime of going through motions and saying things that sound good that I do not feel the burning desire for God that I know I should have. Still, there's enough of me that at least desires a passion for God that it has become the basis for every prayer that I pray.

So, as 2011 draws to an end, I cannot simply say "good riddance", as I am tempted to... instead, I look back from the vantage point of December 31 with a profound gratitude for those blessings which were amplified by the hardships, and for the hardships that served to show me my weakness and need for God. God did not break me down--He broke down walls that I'd built up around my heart and in the process showed me that without Him, I've been broken down all along. I will make no pretense of power or ability--my prayer for the coming year is simple: that I will have the humility to let God work in me and rebuild me; that I will have the passion to seek Him first, and not only when troubles come, but always.

Most of this blog-post was written for myself because I think best in print. In fact, I even hesitated to post this one... however, readers, I feel I needed to share my heart so that I could close by asking for your prayers in this. Trusting is so difficult and it is not something a person can will themselves to do--it starts with surrender and total admission of weakness. It starts with prayer. So, I end the year on my knees, and I think this is precisely where I need to be as I move into 2012.

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