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I had to preach this morning.
Only this time it was for credit — the first of four between the end of this semester and the end of spring semester. Knowing I had to send this audio file in for actual critical feedback added a new dimension of anxiety, but dem’s da brakes, kid. Dem’s da brakes.
The purpose of this particular sermon was to share a personal story of God’s transformation in our lives and weave that with a corresponding Scriptural text. Since my second trip to Romania was such a huge shift in my own life, I decided to share about my experience with Katie with my classmates and professors.
Katie would be twelve now, if she’s survived. I imagine her with long dark hair, inquisitive eyes, and a spirit wise beyond her years. It seemed okay to share about her with the congregation because I can think of her now without feeling so damaged about the loss of her. How eerie that I would then preach today (Dec 11) when the anniversary of her disappearance was yesterday (Dec 10). My own Great Unravelling began on Dec 13.
How eerie indeed.
Yet as I was standing up there sharing about the darkness that I was dropped into 12 years ago, it felt strange sharing just a little bit of the story. I couldn’t share even a fraction of all of the other dark elements that led to my breakdown. Katie was only but a part of the story. It wasn’t the time; it wasn’t the place.
Even with the piece I did share, I felt like I was releasing a thing most precious that I can now never get back. I took something deeply powerful and private for me, shared it with people I don’t know very well, and now I can’t take those words back. They’re out there.
Part of me regrets what I’ve done, simply because it’s in my nature to hold such powerful moments tight to the chest. Sure I can be dramatic and open about a tremendous book I’ve read or trends in the church, but there are icebergs of experience that need to be kept locked up. I draw power from their secrecy, and I need to keep other people away and out of my inner life. There’s no helping it now. I preached as I was led to, and I learned much from the experience.
I know preachers need to be honest and vulnerable with their congregations. Heck, I’ve listened to my fair share of preachers who have over-shared about their lives, or have used emotion to manipulate reactions out of me. I know when a pastor isn’t being authentic or true, even in their emotion. I can smell BS a mile away. That only puts more pressure on me to learn how to be who I am while preaching. The need is great.
But my personality demands back of me that transformative events stay private. Therein lies their power. By sharing, I emptied myself today to the point where I was more uncomfortable than I thought I would be. There are things that I need to share with one person & one person alone; sometimes I can share with an extremely small intimate group of friends. Expect me to be vulnerable and real with a large group?
Ask me to stop breathing.
If this is how I am, at the same time agreeing with the need to be authentic, I wonder how my preaching life is going to sound and look like from here on in.
I wonder a lot.