Now, there’s a catchy quote.
I heard it at a thing called Landmark – a church conference type thing – and it cut through my current lethargy and self-absorption and sparked something off in me.
Frustration is fuel.
Leaving aside general election results and such like (because you really wouldn’t want to read 10,000 words of expletive ridden ranting!), for me, frustration is one of the things that I think describes my general relationship with faith and church; that and outright annoyance some would say, but frustration really checks a lot of figurative boxes for me. I get frustrated with the monolithic glacial edifice of church, the geriatric tortoise rate of progress, the feeling that somehow we’re drifting through our world, our surrounding culture – even our own church culture(s) – without making so much as one intentional ripple.
I get frustrated with people (of faith and of no faith) who characterise faith as an intellectual failing, or as a ‘bless-me-contract’ entitlement programme; I get annoyed by ‘health and wealth’ adherents, and those who see the gospel as the exclusive property of their own particular, self-defined, enclave.
I get frustrated with what seems to be the prevailing idea that we’re just supposed to be ‘nice’ about our faith, sit back and think of England as the same old same old gets trotted out … the “moral claptrap” Justin Welby outed a little while ago. I get upset, and frankly bored, by a cultural sense of ‘church as usual’ and the Songs of Praise general middle class, don’t rock the boat, wasn’t it all better way back when attitude that still dominates much thinking about our faith.
I get frustrated that people like Shane Claiborne aren’t spoken about outside church circles, and self-aggrandising reality television ‘stars’ are plastered all over every media outlet. I’m staggered at the ability of the Christian internet community to immolate itself as it turns on its own at the slightest perceived deviation identified by self-appointed heresy hunters.
I get frustrated that a lot of what I do, and believe, seems to have sod all impact – in my neighbourhood, my community, my town, or even in my own life!
And, just to put a cap on the level of frustration I’ve managed to frustrate myself more by focussing on the fact that I’m frustrated! I’ve managed to distil it down to a refined nugget of purified grumpiness that would make that stupid looking cat on the internet look positively sunny in comparison!
To be fair, I’ve used the frustration in lots of ways; to justify my own rudeness and disinterest, to criticise those that might not share my theology/politics/philosophy/humour (delete as appropriate), to shore up my fluctuating levels of self-worth with righteous indignation, to excuse my lack of effort and resilience when they were needed, and many more things besides.
But, I’ve never used that sense of frustration as ‘fuel.’
I’m sure lots of people have said similar things to me/around me in the past – I’ve even said similar things to myself in half-hearted attempts to shake myself out of the malaise – but just hearing it when I did, how I did, where I did just caught me out … in a good way.
I’ve had only a few moments when I’ve ever really felt as though God (or the Divine or whatever you’d prefer me to call it) was actually communicating directly to me and for me. This was one of them. (Funnily enough there’s another one from this same weekend conference – but that’s another, and a particularly ‘proud father’ story.) A moment where the clouds break, the greyness lifts and there’s that sudden shock of genuine vivid colour and life that is almost painful in its brightness. A moment that you can treat as a ‘Landmark’ to borrow an image as it will be something you recognise again and again as you navigate the terrain of faith and life.
In hearing it I recognised that all of my frustration is meant to annoy/disturb me – to get me off my backside and get me back in the game.
In hearing it I recognised that all of my frustration isn’t necessarily negative, but that it is something that could inspire me to the point of wanting to get involved again; to overcome past hurts and disappointments future fears and uncertainty and involve myself more closely with my own expression of faith.
In hearing it I recognised that whatever sense of call I had fifteen or so years ago when I went to the Pastor Factory (or Theological College as they mostly like you to call it!) isn’t invalidated by all this time feeling like I wasn’t doing some sort of ‘ministry.’ In hearing it I realised that maybe I always was; I was engaged in the ‘ministry’ of frustration … Let me try to unravel this a bit …
In the story of Jacob, there’s a point when – the night before he’s due to meet up with the older brother he screwed out of his inheritance – he encounters and wrestles with a stranger (as you do!). At the end of a long night’s struggle the stranger pops Jacob’s hip joint with a mere touch and, eventually Jacob realises that the stranger was a manifestation of God.
I’ve frequently felt a little like Jacob – engaged in a wrestling match that just seems to go on and on with no really satisfactory outcome … until I realised that part of the point of it is the wrestling itself and that being left with a life-long ‘injury’ is part of it too.
Everywhere Jacob walked after his encounter he limped, every step reminding him that God’s power, majesty and mercy were far beyond anything he could attain or contain. Every step a reminder that he, Jacob, wasn’t the centre of the world. Every step a reminder that there was something bigger, something holy that was just … more!
My near constant level of frustration may well turn out to be my life-long ‘injury’; a constant reminder that my comfort isn’t the point, that my desire to be important isn’t the point, that apathy and disengagement aren’t the point. My frustration niggles at me to limp back into the fray; my frustration irritates me into doing things and not just accepting the same-ole-stuff of church and faith; my frustration interrupts my introspection and intellectualising of my faith and points out that faith is something you live and do not just think about!
I’d encourage you – if you’re ever frustrated, disappointed, disillusioned by whatever you face – to try look at that frustration in the same way. It’s true to say that things won’t miraculously change in an instant, but you might find yourself inching towards getting into the wrestling match again, stubbornly refusing to let go until you’re blessed, using that frustration to fuel a change of heart, mind and circumstance. I’d encourage you to try and grab hold of that sense of something more and tenaciously cling to it … even though that experience can be frustrating in itself, you see …