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I’m Very Human: A Post of Spiritual and Psychological Transparency

by Carson T. Clark on July 30, 2011

A friend from college recently told me that it wouldn’t hurt to be more transparent–to let people know that I’m well aware of my imperfection and don’t think I have it all together. This confused me. My intention for this whole blog has been to share my imperfect journey as I’m working this complicated thing called life. Thus the banner. Plus I’m constantly bringing up humankind’s finitude and fallenness. I thought that I’d been very open about my thoughts and feelings, failures and doubts, struggles and temptations, misunderstandings and screw ups. Apparently that’s not what people are perceiving, though. That’s why I’m writing this post. I’m just going to be forthright about my spiritual and psychological struggles.

I have to make a confession. People semi-regularly tell me that God uses my writings, video links, or whatever at just the right moment in their life. They say it facilitates this intimacy with God. One girl wrote, “Your posts are like this divine appointment. I hear exactly what I need to hear when I need to hear it… I admire you. You must be close to God to be used in such a way.” While that’s tremendously humbling, it seems like a mere coincidence. I rarely have the sort of intimacy with God these people describe, and it’s not for lack of effort. Honest truth? I feel like a phony.

Since becoming Anglican I’ve inadvertently become a bit more mystical. I’m thankful for that, but it’s not by any stretch of the imagination what I’d describe as “intimacy” with God, if I may distinguish the two. It doesn’t feel like mild detachment, but rather utter abandonment. God quite regularly speaks to me through people. That helps. I’ve had mentors tell me that I have a kind of “prophetic discernment” as my foremost spiritual gift, which I know can only comes through the Spirit. That helps. I have an absurd number of Eureka! moments that I know can only be through the Spirit’s guidance. That helps. More than anything, however, I wish I had that direct sense of connection with God.

I feel… huh, I don’t know what the emotion is… ummmm… OK, how about this: It’s like two cups of frustration, one cup of sorrow, and a half cup of loneliness with a teaspoon of shame and dashes of anger and guilt all stirred together. Take that concoction and slowly baking in the malfunctioning oven–in this metaphor, that’s the American church–for about 10 years. Whatever you’ve got at the end of that, that’s pretty much my emotional state as pertains my sense of spiritual detachment.

One of my buddies recently told me he’s impressed by my discipline. Two thoughts:

  1. That’s so off it borders on comedy. I pray for and struggle with discipline all the freaking time. This year has been particularly difficult on that front. I’m goal-oriented. That’s what keeps me focused and working hard. This year I’ve felt like I royally suck at life. Whether it’s my lack of employment, ongoing imperfection in my church situation, problems on the home front, estrangement from my brother… yada yada yada… I feel like a hardcore failure. Nearly all of my relatively short-term goals have crumbled, leaving me struggling big time to remain disciplined. I feel like I just wasted a year of my life. How’s that for discipline?
  2. It seems that for the vast majority of people you get to their head by way of their heart. Particularly in their faith, they start with their heart and that flows into their mind. I’m the inverse. That is, I’m one of those weirdos who feels closest to God when I’m intensely worshiping Him with my mind. As a general rule, those “Eureka!” moments I just alluded to are the only occasions that I catch these faint wiffs of God’s presence–that I feel close to God–and even those are rare. That’s why I work so dang hard to consistently have meaningful conversations, read books, and keep writing. It’d be like a naturally lazy person whose pain is only alleviated when he’s running having everyone tell him he’s such a dedicated athlete. No, actually. It’s a sign of desperation more than anything. Whatever perceived discipline people think I have stems from these sort of spiritual pangs.

I was trying to think of how I could describe this dynamic of my relationship with God. The best I could come up with is that God has been like an absentee landlord. I saw Him when I signed my lease, but ever since then the office hours have been anything but regular. I seldom see Him at all. I know He still works here because all my rent checks get deposited right away. My maintenance orders rarely get addressed in a timely fashion, but with steady follow-up they’re usually they’re taken care of soon or later. I get various notices posted on my front door telling me about inspections, pest control, pool hours, and so forth. That’s about it. The whole thing is kinda creepy, actually.

In conclusion, a few weeks ago another friend sent a facebook message asking about my spiritual and psychological state. He inquired, “Are you struggling with trust or patience? Do you feel like you’re in spiritual turmoil? Are you at peace? Do you experience joy? Are you anxious? How about contentment, or fulfillment? Do you feel like God will use what you’re doing through?” Here’s what I wrote back:

Turmoil? Not so much anymore. I’ve had more than my share of spiritual crises, but I’ve been pretty solid on that front for several years now.

Trust? Surprisingly, no not really. I’m more than a little ticked off at God right now because of the job thing, but I trust that He will provide. I wouldn’t say the skies have cleared, but the thunderstorm has definitely passed.

Patience? Yes. I always have and likely always will struggle with this.

Peace? Define what you mean. I don’t think my peace is like most people’s. For most people peace seems like this state of serenity, relaxation, or comfort. That’s just not me. I inherited this angry streak from both my grandpas. After much prayer, about six years ago God seems to have supernaturally converted it that into raw angst. The degree of passion remains the same, but it’s been re-channeled, if that makes sense. I’m an oddity in that I experience peace in the process of wrestling with God and working through things. For example, when looking into a new theological issue it seems like most people feel this peace only when they’ve concluded the process and pretty confidently determined what they believe, but for me the process itself is the rewarding part. That’s a big part of why I don’t ever have a “Case Closed” with any issue. To employ a basketball metaphor, I get more enjoyment from playing the game than celebrating the victory in the locker room, which is probably why I refuse to leave the court.

Joy? Yeah. As a general statement, I’d say I have joy. Again, it looks different than most people. When I think of joy I tend to think of these bubbly, optimistic personalities. I’m incapable of that, but I’d say I know joy in my own way.

Anxious? Yes and no. When you’ve been as sick as I’ve been throughout my life, it adds a certain sense of gravity or weightiness. That’s good in that I cherish the moment and really try to savor life. It’s bad in that I’m, well, anxious. But I’m in a much better place than I was before leaving Toccoa a year ago. My degree of anxiety was almost off the charts. That bastion of Southern fundamentalism was murdering my soul. Waco and Baylor have been great for me in that regard. Thanks to be God, I still haven’t met a fundamentalist.

Contentment? No. I’m having trouble thinking of a single area in life in which I feel truly content, which is weird for me because this hasn’t really been a problem over the years.

Fulfillment? No.

Will God use this? No doubt. I’m never going to be a good pastor/priest to your typical church full of happy-go-lucky Christians. Nothin but love for ‘em, but that ain’t me. But I can relate with Christian and non-Christian who struggle mightily with angst, doubt, unanswered questions, wounds (especially those inflicted by the institutional church), broken relationships, sickness, depression, etc. I empathize with those who feel beat down by life. I just wish that I could get to this church plant already.

  • http://therecyclingethic.blogspot.com Megan

    I’ve been there buddy. It takes a lot of work to be who you are, but it takes no work at all for God to use that person to speak to other people. That’s part of the mystery, I suppose.

  • Morgan Guyton

    I’m with you on peace. I’m at peace when I’m wrestling (when I’m y’isra-ing my El). If I’m not locking horns with something, I get restless. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be in a place where nothing bothers me or whether that’s a place I’m ever supposed to be. Is anyone at peace? I always think Henri Nouwen’s writing exudes peace but then I remember that he’s writing about his intense loneliness and suffering.

    I think the only dangerous place to be is to be confident that I have God figured out. I get into that frame of mind sometimes when I get really passionate.

    Blogroll me dude! I just blogrolled you. Peace.

  • Amanda

    This is exactly how I feel a lot of the time. And I am often left feeling like I have missed out on something that my “bubbly” christian friends have. I often find myself frustrated In that I my relationship with God often feels exactly like your “absentee landlord” Metaphor. Whenever I try to explain this to a christian friend I am generally met with something along the lines of a sheepish grin and a pat on the back and a “buck up champ” sort of speech, seemingly to me with out any true understanding of the situation.
    As to your friend from college thinking you need to be more transparent about your being human, I would a agree with this only on specific posts if I had never met you. Personally having known you in college and regularly reading your blog I would not. I just think that on specific days some of that “raw angst” you mentioned is more prominent than others. In my own experience, when I open my mouth on that type of day people often sense the angst I am feeling but interpret it in a negative( sometimes personal, and/or “anti-christian”) way that I do not intend. Not saying you shouldn’t talk on those days, just a possible explanation of why someone would think you weren’t being “transparent” enough in regards to your humanity.

  • Penny

    Carson, I know this could not be easy to write out and then make public, but I want to give out a really big “Thank You” for doing so. I can deeply relate to each and every word and more and more often am having conversations with others who do too. I’ve walked through some very dark hours wrestling these things out and certainly believe God is in the middle of the wrestling. I wonder, if perhaps this really is strongly connected people who truly do worship first with their minds? I’ve said before this is so true for me as well. I’ve noticed that that the feeling of “distance” for some reason motivates me to read, search out, and study, and then that mental engagement allows my heart to engage.

  • Pingback: When GOD doesn’t provide | No Vacation()

  • Drew Downs

    How timely is it that the RCL had the Jacob wrestling passage this week?

    I have always wrestled with the fact that it is Jacob that the story follows, rather than Esau. From the big picture, Jacob (like David and even Abraham) is portrayed not as a perfect beacon of faith, but royal jackass, burdened by not only cunning (a mind), but vocation. And yet, as we see in the reconciliation between the brothers, we might all get to reconciliation through different means. Not to get too fuzzy, Chapmanesque, but I think we wrestle because that’s our faith language, while others go the way of Esau because that is theirs.

    • http://carsontclark.wordpress.com Carson T. Clark

      What does RCL stand for?

    • http://carsontclark.wordpress.com Carson T. Clark

      Yeah, I thought about the name of my new blog being “Wrestling with God: Musings of a Hardlining Moderate,” but decided against it….

    • Penny

      My pastor’s blog is “Musings of a Wrestler.” You two remind me of each other. ;)

    • Drew Downs

      Sorry. RCL is Revised Common Lectionary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BytheLionsMane07 Michael Ramey

    Father Carson (forgive me if that’s not right),

    I actually stumbled on your blog looking for Anglican views on Orthodoxy at one point, and.. well, since, I’ve been inspired by your wrestling with G-D and have found quite a bit of transparency here, if I may.

    You’ve said,
    “I rarely have the sort of intimacy with God these people describe, and it’s not for lack of effort…. I can relate with Christian and non-Christian who struggle mightily with angst, doubt, unanswered questions, wounds (especially those inflicted by the institutional church), broken relationships, sickness, depression, etc… I empathize with those who feel beat down by life.”
    I felt you just described this period of my life up there with everything you listed (angst, doubt, etc..). Humble opinion that’s really not worth much, but.. I’d contend that your empathy is exactly what the Body needs from you. I’m just as clueless how G-D will use that, though, as you might be.

    The fact you’ve room to grow is only an avenue of approachability, and you are loved for it. I think G-D’s pretty clear He’s able to use us in spite of ourselves. :)

    I’d also like to second Penny’s thoughts. Your honesty, also, is magnificent, and I grimly cheer you on through your angst.
    I’m proud to see who you’re becoming (meant in the least patronizing way), Reverend. I apologize for the length.

    Your brother,
    Michael

  • http://protomerkaba.blogspot.com Dan

    Carson,

    This is a most excellent and transparent blog post and I thank you for your humility. To be frank, I never really got you being arrogant and not transparent though. Not sure why, it just never crossed my mind. That said, I think you hit what so many of us in the Christian faith deal with in regards to constant wrestling with God. I’ve been in such a strange place in my own relationship with the creator that I’ve come to the conclusion that all I can do is wrestle with God and will never be at a place where I’m “smiling constantly” (which I did hear a preacher suggest as a litmus test of “true faith.” Ugh.)

    While I’m pretty sure, from reading your blog, you wouldn’t agree with everything he says, I just finished Peter Rollins’ “The Fidelity of Betrayal” and I found a lot of hope in it for those of us who wrestle and even doubt constantly. Still thinking through it in a lot of ways, but that little bit of it has been helpful.

    Keep blogging, your voice is much needed, even in it’s “angsty” form.

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