What surprised me was the timing, not the location.
At the bottom of the little mountain we live on is a large used bookstore. Big and slightly unorganized, it also sells vinyl records and I love them for it. The poetry section is small but usually has something I’m willing to spend a couple of dollars on. You can almost always find some Buechner in the fiction section.
On Sunday Nights, we meet with our small group from church. Because of my son’s baseball game, I would have to go by myself. However, I did not want to go by myself and this may be critical information.
Really, without much effort I could have talked myself out of going. After all, there was a good chance he would pitch in a game for the first time ever. But there were a few thoughts swirling around in my head throughout the day that pushed me to go. First, I was looking forward to discussing the sermon we heard in the morning service. Also, I was frustrated with the ballpark forcing us to choose between a church activity and them. But really, the driving force behind it all is I get paid to lead this small group. It’s part of my job description.
I work part time at my church and full time at the school, which is a ministry of the church. At the church, I minister to young parents and I teach Bible and theology classes full-time at the school. Once a week I teach an elective on “The Gospel According to U2” to high school students.
And that’s why I was at the used bookstore. I left for small group a few minutes early so I could stop and see if there were any books about U2 to use for my class. I’ve been listening to them for 30 or more years but I love U2 and I love books. Plus, the school gives me some funds to spend on such things.
Feel free to think about how wonderful that is.
They did not have the book I wanted but they did have a DVD of the show at The Rose Bowl on the 360 tour. That was the show we all watched live on Youtube. I can remember lying on the couch in our living room in Wichita, KS and Bethany telling me she could not stay up any longer. They also had a book I’d read before. Fascinating but not what I was looking for. I thought long and hard about whether to get these or not and then decided to sleep on it. They could be helpful, but again, they were not what I was looking for.
I walked over to the poetry section to see if there was any Collins or Heaney. They only had volumes I already owned. Time was running out and I needed to go if I wanted to take the scenic route and avoid the interstate with the windows down and sunroof open. So I walked out with the same amount of money I had when walking in.
Turning left out of the parking lot, I headed south with Achtung Baby, my favorite U2 album, playing fairly loud. I can remember thinking about how listening to that album was actually class prep and I had quite possibly the best job ever. Dusk settled and the more I drove south, the thinner the traffic. Grace upon grace.
I cannot remember if I realized I was passing the turn to my previous job before or after my chest tightened, the world started to spin and my limbs felt weak. That all too familiar electric feeling surged through my nerves. Misery and terror flew at me from the inside.
When you’ve had panic attacks off and on for three years, you know the signs. Like a known enemy, whose scent is smelt on the wind, you just know. It’s coming. And you cannot stop it. You can only hope to minimize the damage. So I turned on the a.c. in the car, put up the windows, closed the sunroof, changed the music, and took deep breaths in through the mouth and out through the nose.
Or is it the other way around?
“What is real?”
You don’t work there anymore
You don’t work there anymore
You don’t work there anymore.
You have a job you love and you have no complaints about that job and you look forward to going to work everyday and you get to talk about theology with students and poetry with colleagues and you love it more than you could ever imagine and you never thought you would ever have a job like that.
It worked. Kinda. The weight on my chest lessened. The air cleared and the terror lifted, only leaving behind a thin shadow. All that remained was the usual jittery feeling that sticks around for at least an hour.
Oh, and the nauseous tightness in my stomach. That stuck around too.
Small group was lost in a fog. There had been no panic attacks since I was offered and took my new positions. I tried to eat something. The group noticed how little I was eating and made a joke about it because anyone who knows me knows my love of all that is edible. So I told them what happened and they were just as surprised as I was.
As I drove home under the canopy of a young autumn evening, I resolved to write it all down.
How could just driving by the turn to my previous workplace cause the beginnings of a panic attack? This made no sense to me. For more than two months I have been a teacher. I am a pastor again. I love all of it. I love the schedule. I love the kids. I love the teachers I work with and my bosses too. I love it when it’s hard and busy.
That’s why the timing surprised me.
But not the location. The location made complete sense to me. I was driving the same route to work just like when I worked there.
Graham Greene wrote,“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
Writing is also cheaper than therapy.
I have never written down what made me so miserable about working at the bank. In my next post I will begin telling that story.
I can’t wait for the rest of your story. I’ve been doing some reading at various levels on a theology of work and so little of it deals with the hard realities of what is essentially contemporary forms of indentured servitude. You suffered long and well and I genuinely rejoice at how God has lifted you up out of it.
My closet is full of journals in cardboard boxes going back about 40 years. And I don’t think anything has been more critical to my spiritual life than writing. There have been times I’ve poured out my heart for pages and pages and for long periods of time. Other times, I’ve turned to my journal only to be surprised by how long it’s been since I’ve opened its pages. I have only one rule for myself, and that is what has made it truly useful: the admonishment of Charles Spurgeon who said, “We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble and write our blessings in sand.” Those words almost took my breath away when I first read them. And I purposed to always track the hand of God in my life in the midst of my struggles. I decided never to close an entry on a sour, angry, or negative note. Sometimes I could only manage to cry out to God, to seek His help, or just to write a verse of Scripture. Both desperation and joy have driven me to Him. When I go back to my old journals, I often see immaturity, pettiness, self-centeredness, and many more kinds of sin. But I also see the hand of God in ways I would never have done without the discipline and joy of writing.