Ok, here’s the deal: I belong to two populations that are SUPPOSED to be about practicing spiritual principles on a daily basis, namely, clergy and recovering alcoholics. But today, I just wasn’t there. Not at all. I was off the beam, as they say in the program. Not way off the beam, certainly not like the werewolf I used to be in the bad old days, but not where I want to be, either.
I woke up this morning and, as usual, checked in on the Facebook world while I was getting ready for work. (This is probably a habit I should break, post haste.) Lots of bile and venom about the government shutdown. I’m sorry to say, I added to the stream. Driving to work, more bile and venom about the government shutdown on the radio. Changed the channel to a “music” station, where I got to hear a DJ and a caller pulling a mean-spirited prank on one of the caller’s friends. Lovely.
Upon arriving at the office, I set to work preparing for a meeting I have today with a couple who are planning to be married. I should probably mention at this point that weddings are about my least favorite part of pastoral ministry. Add to a task that I don’t love a bunch of important but aggravating interruptions. Pretty soon, I’m frustrated as all get-out, grumpy, and cranky. Off the beam. Totally ungrateful for the privilege and gift of being in ministry. And I stayed that way until it was time to go meet colleagues for lunch at noon.
Thank God for the spiritual principles I’ve been taught to practice, even when I don’t want to practice them. In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. writes “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.” Another principle I’ve been taught is that if I am the problem, I can’t be the solution. So, as I was walking to lunch, I finally did what I’ve been taught to do, and what I should have done instead of checking Facebook first thing this morning: I prayed.
I’d love to tell you that it was a fervent and beautiful prayer of thanksgiving because this is the day that the Lord has made and I had finally decided to rejoice and be glad in it. I’d love to tell you that, but I can’t because I’ve also been taught to be honest. My prayer was short, direct, and spoken through clenched teeth: “God, change my attitude, ‘cuz right now it sucks.” I’m not even sure that I wanted my attitude to change. Part of me wanted to stay cranky, b*tch and moan some more about my job, and wade into some of the debates on Facebook with guns blazing. But I’ve discovered that I don’t really like how that feels. So, unwillingly and half-heartedly, through clenched teeth, I asked God to change my attitude.
And the remarkable thing is, God did. Not instantly, but undeniably. By the end of lunch, I was a little less grumpy about life in general and weddings in particular. By the end of the work day, I was actually looking forward to meeting with the couple and helping them plan one of the most important occasions of their life. After supper, I decided that, having been “off the beam” for a good part of the day, I probably ought to go to a meeting. And because God likes to make sure that I don’t miss the point, would you believe the topic was gratitude? Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up.
“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…” writes the apostle James. When I ask for things to go a certain way, I’m playing craps on whether or not my will is aligned with God’s will. When I demand that things go a certain way, it’s even worse, because then I’m playing God. But in those moments when I’m given the grace to ask rightly (or to try to ask rightly, even if the asking is through clenched teeth), amazing stuff happens. I get to see just how good I’ve got it, and my attitude gets adjusted. Which is usually what I need most of all.
God, bless the world and change me. Amen.