When Church Is the Cause of Your Hustle

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Last week I was feeling irritable. I was busy. I had a lot of things to do and places to be and I didn’t like it. My soul wanted to rest. You know that feeling? When you realize you crammed a few too many things onto your calendar for the week and you feel the pull? The pull between being committed to things and not wanting to do them at all?

I don’t have scientific evidence to support this, but I would hypothesize that church people tend to feel this more than non-church people because church people tend to pack their calendars stupid full.

I am church people. I do church, and I do it well. This happens when you’re a preacher’s kid and when you generally like church and always have. That’s me. I like church. I like being involved. I like church activities and church people and I’m so thankful for that because I know that’s often not the case for those raised in the church.

But lately, I’ve sense I may be a bit over-involved in the church department. For the past few weeks, the majority of my calendar has been consumed with church-related activities or events. I’m involved in the youth group at my church, I’m part of a new church plant my church is starting in the city of Nashville, and I’m going on a mission trip with the church this summer to Peru. All good things. All wonderful things, really. But lately all my church things have not left me feeling very…Christian.

Instead, I have felt busy, and sort of tired.

I feel like I’m hustling.

And now I’m wondering: If all of my church involvement is not allowing for a Sabbath day or a Sabbath week, am I really being Christ-like? If most of my nights are consumed with spending time at church and with church people, am I really being Christ to others in my community? Could church be the culprit for my hustling these days? Could it be the culprit for my faint evangelistic heart these days?

I am beginning to believe that being less involved in church could be better for me spiritually. I wouldn’t resent my calendar so much. I would be more rested. I would be “in the world” a little more. Out there, God can be so much more real. In my rest, God can be so much more audible.

A part of me believes I could serve better if I did church less.

Wouldn’t it be cool if you opened your church bulletin this Sunday, and instead of seeing the typical “Volunteers Needed” and “Events Coming Up This Week,” there was just this one statement, “Hey church, nothing’s going on this week. Get some rest. Spend time with your people. Spend time with God” ?

Oh, that would be so good for me. It might be so good for you too.

What Empathy Is and What It Is Not

photo-1418225043143-90858d2301b4 I went hiking with a friend a few weeks ago and learned a lot about empathy. I learned a lot about it from myself, who was not being very empathetic. My friend was sharing a really hard thing with me and I kept chiming in with examples from my own life. Something deep down inside of me was saying, “Stop doing that. You’re not helping.” But I couldn’t. I just kept sharing my own stories, diminishing and quieting hers.

I really was trying to be a good friend. I was trying to be an empathetic friend, but what my friend really needed from me that day was to shut up and listen.

Empathy is a tricky thing. I used to think I was really good at it, but over the years I’ve realized I’m lacking in this area quite a bit. I’ve come across some incredibly empathetic people in the last few years who have taught me a lot about what empathy is and what it is not:

Empathy is not… Sharing you own experiences. I am notoriously terrible about this, like that time on the hike I mentioned. When a friend is sharing something with you and you interrupt with a “yeah, that happened to me too and here’s what I did” type of statement, it can seem empathetic, but really, its kind of interruptive. It’s almost like saying, “Your struggle is not unique. It happens to all of us.” We think we are making our friend feel better and less alone, when really, we are diminishing her experience.

Empathy is… Listening. Lots and lots of listening. When someone listens to me, like really listens and isn’t just waiting for her turn to talk, I feel cared for. I feel like my words are landing on a soft pillow and will be held with care, rather than landing in an unsafe place.

Empathy is not… Fixing someone’s problem. I also like to do this but am trying to make myself be comfortable with listening and hearing rather than rattling off a list of things they can do to improve their situation. I used to think I was a really good friend for doing this. Now I realize I’m being a better friend when I say things like, “That’s hard.” And then remain completely silent. It’s uncomfortable, but when someone does this for me, I can feel them feel my pain and that is better for my pain in that moment than fixing it is. Pain can’t really be “fixed” anyways.

Empathy is… Relating to others no matter how different their struggles are from your own. My friend who worked with a prison ministry for several years said he worried about empathizing with the men there because his life was so different from theirs. After spending time with them though, he realized they were much more similar than he thought, because we are all human, we are all broken and we all need help.

Empathy is not… “Silverlining” it, as Brene Brown says. “At least” is the worst thing you can say to someone when she shares something difficult with you. If I am grieving something or someone in my life, and I share that with a friend who then tries to point out all of the positive things I still have, my grieving is put on pause. It transports me out of that place. It’s jarring, in a way, and forces me to agree and put on a smile I’m not ready to put on yet. I think learning the art of empathy is one of those lifelong journey things, but I’m so grateful to those who are showing it to me so that I can learn better how to show it back.

Why You SHOULD Get your Hopes Up

why you SHOULD get your hopes up

I’ve been doing this new thing where I allow myself to get my hopes up. I talked about it recently on Storyline and you should read that post first in order to fully understand this one. The problem with allowing myself to get my hopes up means I’m allowing myself to get disappointed. The problem with getting disappointed is that I feel disappointed, and the problem with feeling disappointed is that it doesn’t feel good.

Think about it, the last time you felt genuine disappointment. You had hoped something would happen and it didn’t. For me, now that I’m allowing this disappointment thing into my life, I’ve noticed that I’ll feel it in my whole body. I walk around a little slower, I actually “hang my head.” I reach for a cup in the cabinet at a glacial pace, fill it up with water, slink back to my couch, slip slowly. It doesn’t even taste good.

As I said in the Storyline post, Dr. Brene Brown talks about how living with disappointment is easier than feeling disappointment. I get this now. Because when I lived in it, I did not have the high of hope to come off of. There was less distance to fall. Now, I feel it when I hit the ground. But as hard as it hurts, I know that what I’m gaining is future joy. Because we can not selectively feel emotions, says Brown. When we numb disappointment, we numb joy. But when we feel disappointment, we feel joy.

So that leaves us with the question of what to do when we are feeling the disappointment as we sit on the couch with the cold glass of water that took us 8 minutes to fill up. This is what I’m figuring out now and I think the answer is to press in. Don’t shove the emotion away and pretend it’s not there. Allow yourself to feel it. Kind of like grieving. Maybe exactly like grieving.

The pain of disappointment is real and deep no matter how petty the circumstance may seem. I once ran up to my room crying when I was in high school because I had just discovered I had been wait-listed at a college I didn’t even want to go to in the first place. It’s just a real reaction and pressing in allows us to feel it, and somewhere deep down you know you’ve felt it before and it doesn’t last forever. It’s like a toddler. A two-year-old reacts dramatically when disappointed with tears and cries, but 30 minutes later he’s bounced back and happy again. Maybe the kids have it right.

We forget how buoyant we are. We forget that we’ll wake up, maybe tomorrow, and the joy will have crept back in.