I preached my thirty-sixth sermon yesterday, which, in and of itself, is not a particularly momentous number or occasion, but which nonetheless, was an experience that provoked a bit of reflection. Preaching is a practice that has taken some time for me to grow into. I still find it incredibly odd that people actually entrust me with twenty minutes of their precious time on Sunday morning. And I often think that God has an incredible (or incredibly weird?) sense of humour in sticking the introverted kid who talks too fast and stutters too much in front of a microphone every Sunday.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to get used to is the expectation (perceived or real) that I ought to consistently and reliably have something to say, and that it ought to be inspiring or reassuring or transformative or whatever. I remember one of my professors in graduate school telling us to enjoy our time as students, when nobody really cared what we thought, when we had the luxury of trying out all kinds of ideas, when nothing really hung on what we thought or said! “When you’re out in the world of the church,” he said, “that all changes.” How very true.
On any given Sunday, there are as many different expectations about what ought to be said as there are people. And for anyone even remotely prone to self-doubt, the expectation to consistently have something relevant, comforting, challenging, or helpful to say can be psychologically exhausting. Perhaps it’s somehow related to the “omniscience fatigue” Douglas Coupland speaks of. Every preacher or writer sets forth the fruit of their labours knowing that their congregants/readers could probably find something more illuminating or interesting in ten minutes on Google. That sounds cynical, I know—probably more than it ought to. But there sure are a lot of options out there…
I’m not actually convinced that many of us have more than a few good ideas when it comes to matters of faith. Mostly what we do—those of us for whom writing or speaking about faith is part of our daily work—is recycle and repackage and regurgitate and reframe and renarrate some version of the same story. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—in fact it’s probably unavoidable and good on some level. Perhaps it is a God-given mercy to save us from pride. But it is easy to get sick of the sound of my own voice—whether standing in front of a community of believers on Sunday morning, leading a study group, or even on this blog.
This isn’t an appeal for sympathy or a transparent exercise in fishing for compliments, so please don’t read or respond to it in that way. I suppose it is just an honest confession and a plea for understanding. Sometimes it feels like my thinking and believing is just as muddled as the next person’s and that I have no business whatsoever trying to “instruct” anyone about mysterious and impenetrable things like “God” and “faith” and “salvation.” Sometimes, I just don’t have anything to say.