Have you ever had a bad dream that woke you in the wee hours of the morning, and that just sat with you? The awful feelings that it created won't be evicted from the residence of your thoughts. Rather they stay and make themselves at home.
Yeah I had one of those last night. It was rather interesting timing, too. But before I go into the dream, I have to give some background. You see the some of the bitterness that I referred to earlier is from the experience I had with our denominational committee that oversees the ordination process. All candidates for ordination go through a process which involves papers, interviews and continuing education events. The quickest anybody could get through this process is about 7 years. This winter I went before this group for the final "examination."
They asked me to work on some areas pertaining to my preaching and comeback next year. That was a very painful experience for me (and at times, still is.) Anyhow, in addition to trying to improve my preaching, I have also been trying to work through this bitterness.
One of the ways I am doing this is to attempt openness with my congregation around where my heart is. So, during the portion of worship where folks lift up prayer concerns I asked for prayers to help me deal with this bitterness so that it doesn't seep in to other areas of life, so that I can be the pastor and person God has both created and called me to be. My purpose in asking for prayers was not for them to feel sorry for me. Rather I wanted to be authentic with people I love and serve with.
So last night I received some unexpected words of grace from someone in the congregation I have a lot of respect for. He was very encouraging about ministry at the church and my role. He was very objective and kind. For some reason after those words, there was a quiet inside - it was as if my bitterness towards the process or this past January's continuance had subsided. It was nice.
Then came my dream. I dreamt about being with the board and reliving the whole experience in dream fashion. That sense of rejection and lack of institutional support or confidence reignited inside. I awoke from that dream with all my anger, bitterness, and disappointment burning inside like a roaring fire. For the next hour and a half, if felt as though a battle was raging inside over whether the fire bitterness would consume me or whether I could break free from its bonds. (Next time something like this happens, I am getting my butt out of bed and doing something constructive to get my mind off of it regardless of the time!) Thankfully, I fell asleep at some point and when I awoke - the strong feelings had been extinguished and all that was left were some embers of the memory of some internal struggle - almost like that itself was the dream - how I wish it were!
Now hours later its helpful to write and reflect about. (That and I had a long run this morning to help stamp out any of the residual coals of negativity - thank God for running shoes!)
While this "dark night of the soul" of learning to handle my feelings of rejection, failure, and doubt is not pleasant, when I am able to get some distance from it and some perspective on it, I can't help but ponder how God may use and redeem this stuff. (Thank God for his creative and redemptive power.)
At times I am reminded of a quote from St. John of the Cross's devotional classic The Dark Night of the Soul: "God draws the soul high so she can be submerged , and he lowers her so she can be lifted back to him. Which is why the wise man says, 'Before the soul is exalted, she is humbled and before she humbled, she is exalted.' "
I hope and pray that through this I can be like that wise man and see these ups and downs with those eyes of faith, trusting that in all this God is present.