If This is What a Lifetime of Spiritual Development Produces, Why Bother?

If This is What a Lifetime of Spiritual Development Produces, Why Bother? April 20, 2023

It began with tears.

I sat in the front row of my childhood church in what I knew to be my family’s final service in the community where I had grown up. Ordained in the United Methodist Church, my dad was subject to being reappointed on occasion, whenever the bishop decided a change was to be made. To my knowledge, it’s a process somewhat akin to that of a general manager’s office in the Major Leagues: a group of advisors (known as district superintendents) and the bishop sitting around a boardroom table, moving pastors’ names around on a big whiteboard as if preparing for draft day. This year, we were one of the names on the board.

And so I sat in this familiar, one-hundred-year-old sanctuary, the paint on the walls markedly cleaner and more recently painted than when we first arrived. Now at eighteen, I had spent more than ten years as part of this community, and many of my formative memories had taken place within these walls (even my first kiss, although this might be new information for my family).

As community members walked to the front of the sanctuary, again and again wishing us well and sharing stories from eleven years of friendship and connection, I sat in an in-between place.

I felt increasingly overwhelmed by the transition that was taking place.

One of the final church members to share that morning, Betty, began to cry as she spoke of finding a spiritual home there, a group and community to call her own. She shared what it meant to her to watch our once-young family grow up, seeing my older brother venture off to college, and watching from afar as I chased my baseball dreams. It was when she got to me that I lost it. Her eyes locked on mine and tears began to streak down my face, an impulse I still have to this day whenever I see another person cry.

As the service wrapped up and my tears refused to slow, I found myself being embraced again and again by community members and people I had come to view as elders and family friends. My eyes, scanning across the room, landed on one of the oldest gentlemen in our church striding toward me with determined focus. Dale had been an ever-present figure as I grew up, attending every Sunday service, along with various committee meetings, adult education classes, and church outings. As I played in the corner of church meetings or sprinted across the grass at church potlucks, Dale was invariably meandering around, engaging in small talk with anyone he could. If there was a church event, he was there.

He walked toward me, his long stride slowing as the sea of people began to evaporate, the celebration of our time there moving from the sanctuary to the coffee area. He came up to me, his eyes still locked on mine, and placed a firm hand on my shoulder, uttering a statement I would never forget.

“Men don’t cry.”

I stood for a moment in shock, not quite sure how to respond, while another church member quickly stepped in and whisked Dale away. In the momentary reprieve from hugs and attention, I felt alone and confused, riddled with questions emerging from an unknown space within me.

Why would he say that to me?

How could someone be so unempathetic?

And most of all—if this is what a lifetime of spiritual development produced, why even bother?

This is an excerpt from my book Unmasking the Inner Critic: Lessons for Living an Unconstricted Life.

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About Andrew Lang
Andrew Lang is an educator in the Pacific Northwest, an alumnus of Richard Rohr’s Living School for Action and Contemplation, and author of Unmasking the Inner Critic: Lessons for Living an Unconstricted Life. Along with writing regularly, he facilitates workshops helping people to navigate their inner lives and explore their sense of identity and spirituality. You can find more of his writings and offerings at www.AndrewGLang.com. You can read more about the author here.

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