Monday, March 29, 2010

Internal Dialogue

As written on my blog at the Christ the King, Wilbraham website:

The last two weeks have sort of been a mini-transition period for me: as my work with the US Census begins to wind down and I finish up the last of my seminary applications, the central narrative of my life has begun to shift from “Wow I’m so tired” (see my March 17th blog post) to “So what do I do next?”  For one, I’m extremely excited for my immersion experience at Christ the King to be my only major focus going forward, but I’m also excited to have the mental space to improve myself in others ways.

An area for self-improvement became quite clear to me last week after preaching a sermon the previous Sunday.  Immediately following the sermon, I frankly didn’t think I did all that well… I thought I had a strong message to convey, but I doubted I conveyed it very strongly.  What really upset me though was not that I thought I gave a lousy sermon, but instead the reason why I thought I gave a lousy sermon.  I always loved speaking to large groups (both politically during my time in Washington and spiritually at Calumet) but over the past couple years I began to dislike “being the guy up front.”   I felt much less confident than I used to, and I blamed that lost of confidence on a number of experiences… losing my mother to lung cancer, being (falsely) diagnosed with cancer myself and being unemployed for roughly two months after I left Thrivent Financial (amongst other things).  I came out of my sermon really angry with myself for losing my self-confidence and thus not preaching/ speaking as well as I used to.  In a more general sense, I was angry that despite many recent successes, my confidence still wasn’t what it used to be.

Last Monday when I arrived at CTK Pastor Sara let me know a few folks had told her I gave a good sermon, but more importantly, they had told her some specific things they got out of my sermon.   I was told the day before after worship that I had done a good job, but I assumed people were just being nice.  Given that people were able to name some pretty specific things they got out of the sermon though, I began to think that maybe it wasn’t that bad after all.  Similarly, last Tuesday a supervisor at the census office asked me to continue on in a different leadership position once my recruiting job ended… all along I had thought I was doing alright working with the US Census, but I never thought I was doing a great job… turns out it was good enough to be asked to supervisor others.

The following passage from Isaiah illuminates what I started to realized after both incidents:

You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be nothing at all. For I, the Lord you God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you” (Isaiah 41: 12 – 13).

While some tough stuff happened to me in the last two years, it wasn’t those things that kept me not feeling very good about myself.   Much like in the Bible verse above, many of my issues were things I simply made up… those things warring against me were internal, not external; I was caught in a cycle of being way too hard on myself, and being more cognizant of that negative internal dialogue seems like a great goal to have over the next month.  Just coming to that realization has helped improve my self-confidence a great deal already, in only five days.

This blog post is getting a bit long, but as a quick illustration think of your child, a kid in your Sunday school class or frankly just anyone else misbehaving.  How often does yelling or being really harsh with that child or person help them to improve?  It might scare them into obedience, but only real constructive criticism and encouragement works to foster personal growth.  I suspect that many folks have a similarly negative internal dialogue to my own… if we’re gentle with others to create a nurturing environment for growth, why is it often so hard to be similarly gentle with ourselves? What does God want our internal dialogue to sound like? Just something to think about ☺

God’s peace,

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