The Speaking

In one of my favorite books, there’s a character who takes on a role he calls “The Speaker For the Dead”. He travels the galaxy and speaks at funerals. His job is to tell the story of a person’s life. He doesn’t get sentimental. He simply states what they did during the course of their life, and the effect they had on those around them. He tells the truth, even when it’s ugly. The irony, is that by exposing the ugly truth, he creates a beautiful picture of the person’s struggles and humanity.

This past weekend I had the privilege of assisting my friend David with a video project he is doing. He asked me to talk about the Great Silence and how it came to be. I’ve told the story a few times recently, and didn’t think it would affect me… But as I spoke, I felt a lump growing in my throat. Hot stinging tears began to roll down my cheeks as I recounted the tale of my last communion.

I guess it makes sense that it’s been on my mind heavily this week. After my last post , I was left with a series of nagging questions… And today I think I began to find answers.

I can’t promise what follows is going to be good writing, or even a good post… but I think it might be the most real I’ve been with myself in a while. I’m thinking of it as a “Speaking” of the past five years… No hyperbole… No criticism. Just the facts, and the story. I’m publishing it here in the hopes that maybe it will help other pilgrims who are desperate to find their way out of the silence.

Five years ago I lost God because I fell in love with knowing about God rather than knowing God. I fooled myself into believing my motives were pure. The difference between knowing God and knowing about him is like an elephant dressed in camouflage… Subtle, but enormous. My focus stopped being on knowing God for the sake of understanding him and his ways, but rather on knowing more about him than anyone else. I wanted to be an expert. I wanted kudos and accolade. I wanted my (e)props, dammit. More than I wanted God.

So, God stopped blessing my efforts. All of them. Everything I did was in vain, and I think, that was by his design. No one wants to be used or exploited… and that’s true of God as well. I wanted to use our relationship for profit. When things went south, immediately I played the victim card. I blamed God. I blamed college. I blamed everything but myself, because surely I wasn’t to blame. “I tried!” I was fond of saying woefully. Looking back, I realize how laughable the subtext was… “I tried, and God owes me!”

God offers no lifetime achievement award. There are no prizes. Faith is not a contest. And yet, I was attempting to run from epiphany to epiphany as if I would get a medal if I were the first one there. What if the whole point of the Great Silence was to teach me to enjoy the trip from A to B and rest in the knowledge that God is at point A and point B? And C. And D. And every point before, after, and in between.

What if the point of this silence hasn’t been to teach me something, but to wait for me to get it? God is not a means to an end. He is the end. And the path. And the journey. I traded in a relationship for a flawed formula… “If I put forth effort, then God will reward me.” While that may occasionally be true, it misses the point and his intent at wanting to know us.

And now… the really ugly truth…

To some degree, I’ve known all of this the whole damn time. Not the details… That… That just came to me… But some part of me knew that this had to be on my shoulders… I couldn’t let myself totally believe God had turned his back without setting everything I ever believed on its ear. It was easier to play the victim and act like a spoiled little kid who didn’t get his way so he didn’t want to play anymore.

I. Am. Broken. Maybe more than I had really thought. I guess… The only thing left is is to state the things I’ve learned.

1. Relationship with God is not a means to an end; it is the end. I will deliberately attempt to cultivate a genuine love of God for who he is, not what he could do.
2. Learning has its place. Right now my attention needs to be on restoring the relational aspects of my faith.
3. I will try to share things worth sharing with my readers. I will not pose as an expert or a hero. I am, and always will be just a guy looking for God.
4. I will separate my pride and self-worth from my spiritual life. My relationship with God is valid even when it’s not being “productive”.

God, forgive me. I’m sorry I took such a turn. I’m sorry it took me five years to realize where I went off the rails. Forgive my pride and my arrogance. Forgive me for being a stubborn ass who refused to listen to the voice inside that told me the truth all along. God, can we please go now? away from this place. Toward something new. God, please help me understand you like a friend. Help me know you like a brother. God, please be real to me. 

7 responses to “The Speaking

  1. Thank you for sharing with this depth of authenticity, Paul. So much of my own spiritual walk also keeps coming back to the realization that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). It sounds like God is teaching you something profound in a way that doesn’t allow you to take credit for being brilliant. Sometimes he has to do that for those of us who are easily tempted by intellectual pride. On your point (4), I disagree slightly: I think that the only really valid place to derive our self-worth from is from our relationship with God. However, it has to be based fully on what He has done and how He values us, and not at all on our own achievements, which after all are only gifts from Him anyway. I found this blog post that I think speaks to this question rather well: Anyway, thanks again for writing this. There’s a lot to chew on here.

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrea. Internet has been down for the last several days so I’ve not been able to get on here. I totally agree with what you’re saying; what I meant was that I’ll not base my worth on how I /think/ my relationship with God is doing, but rather the fact that I know I am loved even when I feel broken.

      • I wondered whether that might be what you meant. Coming to a similar conclusion a few years ago (that my relationship with God had very little to do with my own faithfulness and everything to do with His) made a huge difference in my spiritual life: I am a lot less guilt-ridden, afraid, and angry than I used to be. I’m still really screwed up – my faith is very often incredibly weak for someone who has experienced as much of God’s faithfulness as I have – but I feel that I can at least be a little more emotionally and intellectually honest about it now without fearing that God will abandon me if I don’t live up to His (my?) expectations for me. I think He will be faithful to help me grow, and maybe His teaching me to be more honest with Him is part of that process (although at times it feels like I have less of a clue than ever).

  2. i was going to respond to number 4 as well. just to say that, yes, your relationship is valid, even when it’s not “productive,” just like you’re still married, even when all you’re doing is sitting on a couch watching the walls. it is exactly because your relationship is valid that your self worth is in tact. because in him, we move and live and have our being.

    and….best post ever, btw.

  3. “Five years ago I lost God because I fell in love with knowing about God rather than knowing God.”

    In Revelation 2:1-7 Jesus is writing a letter to the church at ephesus. He praises them for their hard work, perseverance, good deeds, how they could not tolerate evil people and refuted false teachers with false doctrines. Basically he praised their good theology but he had something against them. They had forsaken their first love, Him. They knew about God but they didn’t know God on a personal heart changing level. Jesus said to repent or he would take away their lamp (symbolic of their church). I don’t think there is a church in ephesus anymore just ruins, and without love I too am nothing

  4. THIS post…was gut wrenching to read. Because it was raw and honest and PAINFUL. THANK YOU for writing it.

  5. Pingback: The Dedication (Part 1) « Hunting for God·

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