February 25, 2014
Many of us have seen the movie Sister Act. After Whoopi Goldberg turns a San Francisco monastery upside down with her ideas, Maggie Smith, the Mother Superior, tells her she has requested a transfer. Her comment to Whoopi explaining why she is leaving is something like, “You’ve got the sisters thinking life in this community is some kind of ongoing bake sale.” The point she makes is that life is hard, can be unsafe in their neighborhood, and as such there will be bad days. And when Whoopi tries to convince her she can still be a part of the changes happening in the monastery, Maggie states, “I’m sorry, but I’ve misplaced my tambourine.”
In some ways, I think missioners and people back home have that same kind of vision of mission work … an ongoing bake sale. Somehow responding to the call to serve in mission is some kind of spiritual elation or exotic vacation. Everyone seems to understand that the electricity might go out, the internet might go down, you might live in or regularly visit houses without floors, there might be insects around you that carry disease, and so on. But there is this sense of the “noble savage,” the idealized poor person who somehow has this perfect and meritorious life. And when we live among them, what could be perceived as challenging somehow gets glorified as part of an “adventure” or “exotic vacation” with the implication of it being always positive. The reality is that life is life … no matter where you live. We’re all human. There are good days, and there are bad days. Along with the highs of successes and accomplishments come the lows of frustration and disappointment. There are days when you want to celebrate life and God’s many blessings, and there are days when you don’t want to get out of bed. It doesn’t matter where you are, what you’re doing, or what in particular is going on your life. Most of us just go through a normal rhythm of life that includes the highs and the lows.
To be completely honest, lately I’ve experienced the lows; I’ve been in what you might call an emotional slump (which, by the way, is a real thing and completely normal). I couldn’t tell you why. There isn’t anything in particular you could contribute it to. I’m not someone prone to depression (so don’t panic), and as a rule I think I’m typically an optimist and see the rainbow behind most clouds. As a business guy, I tend to see an opportunity when others see a problem. But a part of my humanity is I occasionally get into a slump … or what we call at home becoming “Mr. Attitude.”
The trick, of course, is being able to deal with it and get beyond it. My approach is through spiritual discipline. A friend once asked me about my discipline. I told him that in some ways a great deal of my spiritual discipline is practice for when I really needed it. My spiritual discipline includes reading and reflecting with books like All Saints which I’ve referenced in a number of my blog entries. I also like to use both my small Episcopal Prayer Book (The Book of Common Prayer) and Praying Our Days by Frank Griswold, the 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
While it might be considered a little inappropriate, one of the things I noted recently in my reading that I took some comfort in was that the saints also had bad days. In particular, I guess you could say that martyrdom in the form of a beheading, being shot, or being burned at the stake probably reflected a bad day. Although we often read about the martyrs experiencing an epiphany, praying with great joy, or experiencing some kind of spiritual glory, which I have no doubt in my mind they do and did, I also have to believe that in their humanity, at some point prior to their executions, they had their “slump.” Even Christ is quoted as having said on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Again, it may not be the most appropriate message to take away from the lives of the saints, but I find it reassuring that I don’t have to be perfect and that it’s okay to feel a little cranky once in a while … aka, be “Mr. Attitude.”
Another thing that my spiritual discipline tends to do for me is point me back to the many blessings in my life. It’s easy to see only the negative if you allow yourself to wallow in your slump. I find that when I talk and listen to God, I begin to assess my blessings. An email from a friend, a visit in the office from someone I haven’t seen in a while, a positive response to a grant application, a sunny day, the preparing and delivering of an interesting sermon, a mother with a cute baby in the market, a special meal or specific dessert, and more, all serve to remind me of the many blessings in life … in my life. And as of January, another of my blessings includes my new companion, Wilson, a Springer Spaniel puppy. Many of us know of the blessings and joy a pet can bring into our lives. While it’s a good deal of work to raise a puppy, I give thanks for the blessing of Wilson and the joy he brings into my life and home.
I think the most important part of my spiritual discipline is listening and reflecting. Ultimately, I think I’d be sunk if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to talk with God. It’s during this time that I’m reminded of what matters to me … reminded of my vocational call … reminded of the many blessings in my life … and, when needed, find myself coming out of a slump.