To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time and to know- all the time- that you must do it again.
― Jeff Arthurs
I have now preached thirteen sermons. I wish I could say I have gained a love for the good work, but I haven’t yet. I suspect it will come, but for now I am still smack dab in the middle of the growth learning curve. For about two days while I’m writing each sermon I get frustrated and annoyed. I’m no fun to live with. Eric stays away and the kids find their corners at opposite ends of the house.
I hope it gets better and I’m glad it’s a calling. But it seems to be a fraught business without a pot of gold at the end of the mythical rainbow. But when I wrestle down the words, delivering them on Saturday nights, I have an odd sense of peace and satisfaction. And the reward grows when I hear how others are impacted. It is good.
As of last count I’ve watched just three of my sermons. It is a terrifying thing to witness oneself on a camera. Paula, my fellow pastor, encourages me to watch myself regularly. She says it’s important to catch the tics before they become habitually embedded. I don’t see too many egregious offenses, aside from how I shift my weight back and forth. It reminds me of how I always held my babies in church – the back and forth rhythmic rocking – to hasten comfort and hopeful sleep. And I’ve noticed in myself and in other mothers, we continue to rock even when our children are far too large to be contained in our arms.
I am not the best objective observer of my hair, my voice pitch, my vocal stumbling, and my body. I suspect few are. It must come with the territory. I often hear of Hollywood celebrities who cannot watch their own movies. If Robert Redford has trouble, I guess I’m allowed to struggle too.
I preached my first sermon in January at the launch of our new church. I was a wreck for the entire week before, crying on a dime, snapping at loved ones, losing sleep. I delivered the sermon fine, made my way through, and heard plenty of positive feedback afterwards. But the worst part was watching myself the next day. I knew it would be rough, so I prepared myself with meticulous care.
Since our church meets on Saturdays, I crawled back into bed Sunday morning at 10:00 with a bowl of plain, comfort M&M’s on my belly. I watched through the slit in my fingers as I would watch a horror movie. The other hand provided a steady stream of chocolate in my mouth as I observed the dreaded truth play on the laptop screen before me.
I stomached the wretched experience for a few brief moments before I broke into tears. It was worse than I expected. All the things were wrong – my voice pitch was too high, my body was wrong, my hair a mess. All of the beautiful anticipation of starting a precious church community was thrown under the bus in one fell swoop as I hit the brick wall of vulnerability.
Knowing the truth about ourselves is never fun. Denial is powerful. And as a woman, the world has pressed into me time and time and time again that my value is in my carefully presented appearance. My value is in my fashion, my size, my outward expression. But I am so much more than that. I exist beyond how I am perceived.
I am in the middle of the book Pure by Linda Kay Klein. As a fellow former evangelical, Klein outlines the shame resulting from the purity culture that has pervaded and poisoned faith communities across the nation. I avoided the eye of the purity culture storm, but absorbed enough to know my body was both my currency and my curse. As the curves of puberty emerged I hid myself in my dad’s tee-shirts. I knew it was my job to prevent the male gaze while also being attractive enough to attract the right male when the time was right. It’s a confusing space to occupy.
These beliefs and resulting shame don’t die easily, and at 46 I still ache with the sadness of the years I lost overwhelmed with trying to shrink while simultaneously trying to be noticed. I concerned myself far too much with how the world perceived me than with my potential, generous offering to the world. The pendulum swing between being too much and too little still reverberates in my body and my first sermon brought all of it back with a vengeance.
But the truth has been revealed. I am not the sum of my perfections and failures. I’m just me. And I like myself. I like the pastor and the person I’m becoming.
And something good is happening. I wanted to watch my sermon from this past Saturday. I sat at my desk sans candy and I took this woman in. I held her and offered her grace as she spoke with power and authority, speaking words that people in pews have needed to hear forever. I liked her.
And as she rocked back and forth, shifting her weight from foot to foot, she held the people. She carried them with her, reminding them all of the generous love that is theirs to claim.