Searching for Pauly Fischer…

I’ve always been interested in chess. As a child I was always identified as being smarter than average, and so chess appealed to my charmingly inflated sense of superiority. Smart people played chess, I was smart, therefore I should play chess too. So, I learned how. I don’t recall who it was who taught me, but I remember sitting at a chessboard and someone explaining the different moves each piece could make. When it finally came time to play, I was sure I would be amazing. Thirteen moves later, the game ended with my army largely decimated and my King in checkmate.

I’ve spent a pretty hefty portion of my spiritual life feeling mildly guilty about everything a person can feel guilty about. If it’s not the overt sins, it’s the fact that I’ve not said a prayer in eons. If it’s not that, it’s that I haven’t cracked a Bible in just as long. If it’s none of the above, it’s the simple, subtle sensation that I’m probably doing something wrong. After a while, it builds up to the point where the only recourse is shrugging it all off, closing my eyes, and pretending none of the above exists… Which, incidentally, tends to push me back in the direction of overt sinning and the cycle starts all over again.

It’s worth noting that this guilt isn’t based on fear. I understand that God is a gracious god. The issue is that God is so gracious, I can’t help but feel like anything but a complete disappointment. This effect is compounded by the fact that I’ve grown up in the Church. I know the rules. By all rights, I should know how to play the game… But really, all I know is how the pieces move: The preacher is in front and moves one space in any direction on Sunday morning. The band moves six spaces forward and backward from the stage to their chairs once or twice per game. The audience stands, then moves all the way to the front, and then all the way to the back. The soundman… Well, he doesn’t actually move all that much.

And there in the midst of these pieces, is me. And I’m lost. Because I don’t know how to move anymore. I used to be able to join the audience when they moved forward to take communion… But… I can’t anymore. I’m terrified of re-living the night I wrote about in the “What Is This” section. What if I try and… And it’s awful again? What if I try to eat that piece of crusty bread, and it fights all the way down? On occasion I used to move like the preacher, to the front and I would speak. It was good and wonderful, but who wants to make the ugly broken piece the lynchpin of their strategy?

Every Sunday I’m filled with the same sensation that I had that day I played chess…  Despite my best efforts, I know I’m doing something wrong. I don’t know enough about the game to know exactly what it is, but I know I could be doing it better. Somewhere, invisible and waiting in the wings, my Opponent is waiting, eying me, already planning the next three moves, and the only thing I can do is move the rook back and forth.

And so, Sunday morning comes and there I am. Lost and confused. Like a checkers piece alone in the middle of a chessboard. During worship, everyone is standing and singing except my wife and I. We’re broken so we don’t worship like everyone else. We write our hearts down on paper because it feels like the only real thing we can do.  So I was writing. And words started coming out of my pen without my brain’s prior authorization. Words of hope and peace. The train of thought began picking up steam, and soon it was blowing through the lines of my journal like a locomotive over a railroad:

When I finally started writing a movie, I discovered this great thing that was inside of me. In order for me to witness it, I had to perform the act of writing… What if there’s a spiritual equivalent? What if all it takes for me to discover this great God everyone is talking about is to keep trying? What if all the shit that has been holding me back is just that? Bullshit? None of it matters. The only significance it can hold is what I choose to give to it.
What if… What if all of this is in my head? What if the only disappointment felt simply exists solely inside of me and has no bearing on the way God feels about anything? Yes, I’m broken. Yes, I’m probably not living in a way that fulfills my potential… So what? Who cares? Does God? God, I’ve been led to believe, is interested only in me. Not my junk. Not the baggage I pull behind me. So… Screw it. Screw not being able to take communion, screw feeling lost and broken all the time. So what if I am? If it’s true and God wants me, he can have me. If this other junk is a problem then he can deal with it because I’m sick to death of trying to handle it on my own.

As I wrote the words, I felt something shifting inside me. I won’t be so cliché as to say that it was like a weight lifting off me, but… It was definitely something that I thought might be dead growing tender again. For the first time in a LONG time, I looked around to the people standing and singing around me, and felt mildly inclined to join. I didn’t… for one reason. I’ve been here before. I’ve been on the precipice of great epiphanies, only to fall from the summit bruised and bleeding back to where I started and I was scared. Scared of falling. Scared of what would happen when I hit. And more than anything, scared of having to make that climb again. So… I remained seated. I forced my breath to stay steady as I felt my eyes resisting my commands to stay dry. I kept the swell of emotions that had been inside of me in check, and I assumed that was extent of God stuff for that day.

A few hours later, I was at small group. We were supposed to talk about a book we had begun reading, but that morning’s sermon came up first. People talked about it, then they asked what I thought. I tried to eloquently say everything I’ve written here… But instead, I started talking about my past. About the last time I tried to take communion. Despite the fact that this is a story I’m familiar with and have shared several times before… my voice began to crack. I tried desperately to fight through it, but my eyes staged a coup and took my larynx with them. Hot tears rolled down my cheek as I tried to explain to them that maybe I was on the verge of something good. In the course of the sentences I spoke, I relived those early days in which I felt so completely abandoned by God. I’m not sure how much of any of this my group actually caught, but they were wonderful. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was a part of something that was right. What’s more, within myself I see the beginning of a path that fills me with both joy and terror. I’ve wanted progress for so long, but because of that, I’m terrified that this will be a dead end. But I know… In the end I’m going to walk it. Because that’s what not only this blog, but my life is about… Walking, trembling into the night knowing that there’s something waiting for me out there…

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2 responses to “Searching for Pauly Fischer…

  1. Paul, I enjoyed reading your post. Like you, I have also traveled a path of despair. But, I found God was faithful and he never left and when I reached out to him, he picked me up and restored my life. People will let you down, but not God. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” With that statement, Jesus relates to all of humanity that has ever felt God-forsaken. Thus, no one can ever say that God doesn’t understand how I feel, because he does. Knowing, or should I say, attempting to know God, does not remove suffering, pain, discouragement, disappointment, depression, sickness, or any other negative human ailment from one’s life. Rather, through those and other life experiences one can find grace and mercy to help in time of need. God bless you in your pursuit to know the Lord. Gary Piercy

  2. Paul,

    It never fails that no matter where I am or how long its been since we’ve corresponded, your words affect me. Thank you for sharing this part of your life.

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