I am about to be pruned.
It has happened before, and it was a painful process, not mitigated in the least by my willingness to lose dead wood in order to let new growth flower. Discovering that I’m up for pruning again, has been making me nervous – until today, when I was shown what was needed.
I just got back from a parenting seminar at my local Presbyterian. Chalk one up for professional development – I did not know (though I knew I got stressed) that I suffered from Anxiety, capital A, ‘til this day. (I’m sure those of you who know me well are rolling your eyes right now!)
I ask myself this: who am I, exhibiting so many problems, so much imperfection, poor attitudes, reticence, bumbling, emotionalism, and so on – to hold myself out in chaplaincy as a vein to answers for others
When I first started in this job, part of the induction process included a lecture from RE expert Jonathan Sargeant. When he stated that chaplains were to avoid implying any kind of superiority in our own beliefs, or what EQ calls behaviour “designed to attract to a particular religion”, I became puzzled.
“Isn’t every little thing we do in life, designed to attract people to Christ?” I asked.
“We don’t love people because we want them to become Christians,” he replied. “We love them because Jesus asks us to.”
At that moment, I felt the world tilt on its axis. Everything in my Missionaries’ Kid life had led me to see myself as a walking billboard. Consequently, my opinion of myself as a Christian swung between “not too bad a billboard” and “completely crappy billboard”. To leave advertising aside as not the main issue was a paradigm shift. The feeling that I’ve been doing it wrong all this time was awful, but later, the realization that I could now be free from the harassment of whip-cracking thoughts was elating. I didn’t even need to have an opinion of myself.
My husband and I have wrestled between ourselves with this sort of thing. I was brought up, by my parents and my youth leaders, to be in church (smartly dressed) twice every Sunday; at [insert age/status-appropriate group activity] weekly; and if there was a prayer meeting going, you’d better have a good reason to not be there, girl! Chris, on the other hand, saw himself not as a card-puncher but as a son, whose family membership would not lapse if he failed to rock up to every single yank on his chain. I spent a lot of time trying to get him onto my page. I saw myself as dedicated: he saw himself as loved. I described myself as committed: he thought I should have been! It wasn’t ‘til I joined him on his page, that I started to see myself as a daughter, not a billboard.
This time around, it is my anxiety that needs to be pruned, because it’s producing loads of useless, fruitless jungle that saps the nutrients from the rest of the vine. This time, I see pruning not as a process of amputation, but as a sort of cathartic, sleeves-rolled-up cleanout. We are going to spring-clean, my God and I, and at the end we will metaphorically hold hands and gape openmouthed at the heap of trash out on the kerb for collection, and shudder to think how long we lived with it. He will be smiling. I will be wholer.
After today’s seminar with Beate Teale on childhood anxiety, I wiped my nose and got back in my car, determined to do business with God over my own anxiety, and hopefully stem its bleeding over into my family. And in a moment of incredulity, I asked my “Who am I…?” question. “What qualifies me, a screw-up, to offer service to others with their screw-ups?”
You don’t have to be qualified to love, He said. Love is its own qualification.
So yes, on the one hand, I have a Diploma of Youth Work. And yes, on the other hand, I have anxiety – just one of many flaws God’s helping me push repeatedly through the strainer of Life from immaturity to maturity, as Kerrie Manson showed us today. But love I can offer as well as and in spite of. The first two commandments do not read, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and be perfect poster children for Christianity.” To abridge a recent Facebook graphic, love your homeless/Muslim/black/gay/white/Jewish/Christian/atheist/racist/addicted neighbour. That is what God does, and that is all.