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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Getting On My Way

Twenty years from now, I will be 43. Hopefully, the hair is still long and the beard speckled with a minimal amount of grey. When I close my eyes, I can see future me sitting at a desk. There are books still in progress sitting next to him, a laptop with manuscripts ready for editing, and to his left is a piano, ready for composing. It is an image which is very reminiscent of where I am sitting now. My hope is that there is one difference. For future me, I hope these items are not set up as a wall to block out the world around him, to keep himself safe from all-too human experiences, the way I am at present. When he moves away from his desk, books, laptop, and piano, he remains the exact same person, centered in an identity which has nothing to do with his activities, possessions, or accomplishments. I do not know how many people he pastors, nor what kind of recognition he has as a composer, nor whether or not he ever published a book, and none of that is as important as present-me seems to think. My hope is that future-me has become centered in Christ enough that he is able to be vulnerable with the people around him. His tools for study, writing, and composing are only useful is so far as they help him let his guard down and be honest about the human experience he lives in Christ and alongside other people.

I have found my propensity to pride to be a deterrent to becoming this person. Part of my struggle with pride leads to perfectionism and an aversion to failure. As a result, I am terrified of vulnerability because I am afraid my weaknesses will be uncovered. Often, I read, write, and compose as a means to overcome or cover up my own shortcomings. Pride leads me to create false versions of myself, ones without weaknesses and flaws, and I work to become a version of those false selfs. Such habits are dramatically different from trusting in the work of Christ, accepting my limitations as both a created being and as a human tainted by sin and death, and living into the reality of the cross and the empty tomb.

Yet it is not merely pride which plays into my aversion to vulnerability. I also struggle with anxiety and am afraid of the pain which inevitably comes from human relationships. I have an aunt on my father’s side of the family who has been verbally and emotionally abusive to every member on that side of the family, including to me. It was not until I was eighteen that I stopped communication with her, but it was not for two more years than my parents and my uncle and aunt severed ties with her. She and I did not speak for two years, though we sat at the same family table for meals and she continued to treat my family members in the same manner. Over the years, every conflict with a friend touches that part of me. Criticism seems to always come in her voice. Even from my best friend, I struggle trying to ensure I hear his voice and the loving intent behind it rather than her malice. This conflict aversion and protectiveness of a deeply wounded part of my soul keeps me from being vulnerable.

An essential practice for combating my pride is Sabbath. To clock out for a day, relinquish all control, rest, and remember the work of Christ is a difficult and essential practice to combat pride. One day a week is completely dedicated to reminding myself I am not in control. For that day, I do not sit at a piano, or write, or do any kind of work which allows me to think I can fix myself. On the Sabbath, I am reminded the world still turns and I am still a valuable person in the sight of God, even though I am doing nothing. Hearing the Gospel preached and seeing it acted out in the liturgy reminds me that all my imperfections are remedied by the work of Christ rather than my own. Christ has already done what was necessary on my behalf, and he did it far more effectively than I could ever dream of doing.

I have also found the prayer of examen and lectio divina to be important components of learning how to be vulnerable. In both of these practices, all my defenses are put down and I am forced to see myself and present the true, naked self to God. During the prayer of examen, I am able to take the particulars of each day and pull back the layers in order to see what was really going on in my heart, both the good and the bad. Some days, I am surprised to find I was not as bad as I had thought. On others, I can see how I do good things such as study or compose, not to love Christ more, but to fix myself, and I did not even know it. I find the third step in the examen to be the most helpful. As I peel back the layers of the day, I can see everything, where God was surprisingly working, where I missed him, and those moments that were in-between.

Lectio divina, while not a practice I have engaged in often, has proven to be an important way of baring myself before God. During lectio divina, the Scriptures read me far more than I read them. In one sitting, I learn a considerable amount about myself during the “meditation” step, which I then have an opportunity to respond to in prayer. In previous sessions, what has frequently appeared during my sessions are ways that I have not forgiven people and circumstances which I feel have made faith a more difficult task for me. These places of my faith journey are places where the things I put my hope in let me down, but as I pray, I learn how Christ does not let me down. He does not disappoint my expectations the way other people do.

The final discipline which will help me become the person I hope to be in twenty years is that of spiritual friendship, a discipline which has served as a vital component of my faith over the years. I have a number of friends from college and even a few from high school who still speak into my life in ways which constantly surprise me. These friends constantly remind me that it is not my job to “go it alone.” I need them in my life, to hear their wisdom, to articulate the things I am working through, and to pray, me for them and them for me. While I am not where I want to be regarding vulnerability with even these friends, they are where I am closest to the self I imagine. I am more vulnerable with some than with others. I am most vulnerable with one who has been my best friend since high school and with whom I shared a dorm room for three years during college. There are not many parts of my life I am not willing to open up to him. At present, I am trying to learn how to have this same level of vulnerability with several others in the group. There are two other friends who I text regularly in between our Thursday prayer meetings with whom I am constantly sharing about where I am spiritually and emotionally, and asking them questions about their lives. Several of the friends I stay with have also become confidants, and with whom I see myself progressing in my ability to be vulnerable. Slowly dropping my masks and walls with certain individuals and letting more into my inner circle has proven to be an essential step in developing a sense of vulnerability, even if it is a slow one.

One of the greatest takeaways from this class is that I am not as broken as I often assume. At times, I have written reflection papers, convinced they contain good reasons for not being in ministry. At the end of the first few papers, I was ready to drop out of seminary and look for a church music director position in order to compromise with God. Yet the comments I received back from each paper were all an encouragement and, in fact, affirmed the statements which caused me doubt. I have found this class to be an essential part of developing confidence for me, both in my call to the ministry and in my own faith journey.

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