A Guide to Fearful People

I went back and re-read The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen this morning. It's a short book, dated in some ways (he calls Gen-X "the Nuclear Man"), but intensely helpful. I'd write a more extensive summary of it, but I have to go and coach soccer in a few minutes.

One quote jumped off the page for me today, as it has every time I've read this book:
No minister can save anyone. He can only offer himself as a guide to fearful people.
So much of the work of ministry gets into the scrum and scruff of our broken world, painful relationships, and desperate situations. I frequently feel the tug to stop pointing to the Savior and to start being the Savior. I want to help. I want to solve problems. I want to heal.

There's only one Savior.

Accepting this truth gives us limits. It shapes our ministry. We do what we can with what we have, but the work of salvation is beyond us.

We need a Savior, but we also need guides. Guides help us press through our fear. Guides show us that help has come, help is here, and help is on the way. Guides enter into the loneliness of our journey and walk with us through it.

I keep circling back to Nouwen's quote because I keep being tempted to be a Savior. I keep circling back because I actually love being just a guide. I keep circling back because I need to remember that the ministers in my life make great guides and lousy Saviors.

Shame, fear, the false self and a Retreat Day

As part of my annual review for my work with the church last year, I was asked to take a monthly retreat day. I find this difficult to schedule, but wonderful when I do.

Today is my last working day of the month. I had the retreat day scheduled earlier in the month and bumped it, then bumped it again. There's never a convenient time to go off and reflect and read and pray.

Photo by Jeremy Cowart
During my reflection time, I wrote a little poem to capture some of the concepts I'm working through today. I thought it might be interesting to share:

Shame has leaped over the fence
She tramples the garden of my soul
Gunfire will scare her away
But my hands are empty 
Fear gives up on the garden
What good's a soul anyways?
Big block walls rise around the fence
Can we settle for safety? 
The false self paints the walls
"We meant to do this"
We pretend
How will I live, cut off from my soul?
The nudge to reflect on shame, fear and the false self came from Rob Liddell, a friend from my high school days, who recommended the book Scary Close by Donald Miller. Great stuff!

The banner over the season

My last season of ministry had a great big banner over it: COURAGE.

Every day required from me more courage than I thought I had. I needed courage to cross cultural barriers. I needed courage in the face of the police. I needed courage to ask for volunteers and commitment and lots and lots of money. I needed courage to follow Jesus.

Naturally, I'm wired for fear. Or, if not fear, caution. I could try to playfully blame it on my dad teasingly threatening to feed me to the gators in Alligator Alley or my mom hiding vegetables in my food, but I think this is just my disposition. Perhaps it's also the flip side of a God-given gift.

The same quirk in my personality that makes me cautious also makes me strategic. I ask "What could happen?" and discover opportunities and pathways to go forward. I also discover ways things could be painful or go wrong. But I don't think you can have one without the other.

Courage is a necessary character component for someone of my disposition. Without courage, I'll be crippled by fear. Developing courage didn't actually diminish my fear, it just helped me continue to move forward in the face of fear.

Courage continues to grow in me, but it no longer feels like the banner over this season.

I'm in a new season of life and ministry:

  • Although I'm still working for InterVarsity, I'm now doing it part-time: directing communications and resource development for LaFe, InterVarsity's Latino Fellowship.
  • I'm serving as an associate pastor: lots of responsibility but very little power or authority (just what I like!).
  • We added twins to our family last month (bringing our Total Tamayo Kid Count to 4).
  • We've moved from Florida to North Carolina, from the city to the country, from "the Capital of Latin America" to Pittsboro.
My season of life and ministry has changed. So, almost two years in, what's God doing now?

I have guesses. 

Maybe the banner over this season is HEALTH. I've developed several significant healthy practices over the last two years. I went to counseling. I'm spending good time with my family and learning to swing between work and rest. I've taken actual vacations. Maybe God is using this season to help me embrace my humanity.

Maybe the banner over this season is WRITING. I've always dreamed of writing books. I've almost finished my book proposal for my book on ethnicity in the Bible. I've written dozens of chapters in a fantasy novel. I've written hundreds of blog posts over the last two years (mostly over at the Connect Devotional). Maybe God is using this season to develop me as a writer.

Maybe the banner over this season is HUMILITY. In every corner of my life I have to answer to someone else. I have 11 bosses. I'm not in charge. I'm not the supervisor. I'm just a servant. On Sunday morning I'll be pushing tables with our set-up crew. On Friday afternoon I'll be filling out paperwork to get a new Bible study into InterVarsity's store. I do a tremendous amount of work so that other people can do terrific ministry. Maybe god is showing me the significance of small.

Whatever the "banner" over this season is, I'm excited to see what God will do in me and with me and around me. He's generous to include me in what he's doing in this corner of the world. And I'm grateful.