The Deal with Increasing and Decreasing

I have historically loved John the Baptist’s declaration: “He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30). I still do love it. There’s a pure intent there, terse but not harsh. The kind of writing I aspire to.

But sometimes it is applied in ways that it shouldn’t be. Rather, I think that Jesus increasing in my mind, my heart and my focus is enough, the main driver, which naturally means I am decreasing but without any (rather typical) tendency of denigrating self. So I’ve taken a new focus: He must increase. Period.

I’ve especially tried to apply that recently, as in the last year, on what I do and what I don’t do. It’s a hodgepodge, things that work and things that I abandon within a week because they were half-baked, but in the long term, in the gloaming after a day, a week, a month of different tries, I see progress.

What I do:

  • A step back, for a time, from formal ministry. I’m in a new place, a new church, and my tendency to think I can/should jump in and try to serve (let’s be honest: improve things, as I think in my heart) needed serious tamping. And tamped it has been. It’s quite strange to have a season of prayer and participation only as I figure out what I should be doing further, and how not to do it as the General Manager of the Universe, a position I will (no longer) seek and if elected to, will not serve.
  • A period of contemplative prayer. This has been very different for me. I’m in the midst of a 9 month long retreat, called the 19th Annotation of St. Ignatius Loyola, with a spiritual director. It’s been illuminating–not in the sense of “Oh, wow, I’m so enlightened now” and more in the sense of “Oh, wow, I’m terribly self-focused and manage to repeat the same damn behaviors ad infinitum.”
  • No Facebook, and Twitter only as a newsfeed. It’s not you; it’s me. It’s what trads would call “a near occasion of sin.” Maybe not for you, but it is for me. I frankly think it is for a lot of people, but maybe not you. For my part, Facebook is history for me because because it has differing views on political ads and data use than I do, and most of all, it’s too much information, most of which scales towards what I call the “anger orgasm,” drawing us back in as we look to fuel our latent anger. Anway, the bottom line is that it’s not good for me due precisely to my own foibles. As for Twitter, it’s a great newfeed, but is also scaling towards the same level of anger baiting. Thus, I unfollowed every individual and only follow a few news outlets I think are the most credible, as well as some sports feeds, and, of course, We Rate Dogs.
  • A different kind of correspondence. You know, the ancient form of communication, email. I’m going to start up regular emails to those I have the closest relationships with and want to check in with occasionally.
  • A study of Joseph, Anna and Simeon. These are three people that never (or almost never) have a speaking part in Scripture. I find these folks are ordinary at first glance and extraordinary upon thought, study and prayer. You can’t read too much about them (it’s just not there in writing) but you can think about them. As someone who has lived her life–if I’m being truthful–looking for the next big accomplishment, the next opportunity to be important to someone or something, I need to focus of these three seemingly ordinary people. They served Jesus as a child with precious little in the way of worldly resume builders (“Carpenter;” “Long-time pew dweller at the Temple;” “Eighty+ year old widow putzing around until the Messiah came.”) I would not have imagined how much power and insight could come out of studying and considering how to emmulate them.

It’s a new season. It’s a season of being less important in worldly ways. That is a very hard prospect for me. It’s a season for me to decrease, not by thinking less of myself but thinking of God more (and therefore thinking of myself less). It is a season, most of all, of interruption. “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God,” said Boenhoffer.

And onward we go, interrupted but perhaps better for it.

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