Telling Secrets

Frederick Buechner is a writer/preacher who wrote a book entitled Telling Secrets.  After telling some of the secrets of his life in this book, he wrote the following:

Sad to say, the people who seem to lose touch with themselves and God most conspicuously are of all things ministers….Ministers give preeminence to all books the Bible whose absolutely central and unifying thesis is that God makes himself known in historical experience.  In other words, a major part of their ministry is to remind us that there is nothing more important than to pay attention to what is happening to us, yet again and again they show little sign of doing so themselves.  There is precious little in most of their preaching to suggest that they have rejoiced and suffered with the rest of mankind…what it is like to love Christ, say, or to feel spiritually bankrupt….Ministers run the awful risk…of ceasing to be witnesses to the Presence in their own lives….Their sermons often sound as bland as they sound bloodless…. 

(Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, pp. 36-38)

I think he is right.  It really is possible to ignore what God is doing in our lives.  It is possible to ignore what God is doing in our lives as we walk with Him.  It is possible to open the Bible and pay little or no attention to what God might want us to hear and how he might want us to respond.

Sometimes I think we are like people who come to a meal but never really taste or enjoy the food that is in front of us.  This time of year, I like to grill.  I often grill chicken, beef, or fish.  Suppose I were to grill chicken one evening.  We all sit down at our kitchen table to eat.  We bow our heads to pray and just after the "amen" someone asks, "What are we going to eat tomorrow night?"  Tomorrow night?  We haven’t even tasted what we are about to eat tonight.

Yet, I think that ministers and other Christians can get into a similar mindset.  A number of years ago, I was in my office working on a sermon.  I do not recall the message.  What I do remember is that I not only had that sermon to complete but I needed to start on another sermon and prepare to teach a Bible class.  As I was preparing this sermon, it dawned on me that I was not really paying attention.  I was not thinking about what God wanted ME to hear in this text.  I was not suffering or rejoicing (as Buechner suggests above).  I was not thinking about what God was doing in my life or what God wanted me to hear.  Rather, I was thinking about the need to finish this message so I could get on the other two tasks.

This can be very dangerous.  If I am not careful, I can find myself sitting at a nice meal that God has prepared for me only to be asking the question, "What are we going to eat tomorrow night?"  I may never really taste what he has placed before me.

Is this a temptation just for preachers?  Absolutely not!  Anyone who has been a Christian for quite some time can easily slip into a mindset in which we take God for granted.  If we are not careful, our time in the Bible each day can become something that we check off for the day, instead of a moment to taste what God might have in store for us.

Is any of this familiar to you?  What have you found helpful so that you really "taste the food" in front of you?  What has helped you pay attention to what God is doing in your life? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “Telling Secrets

  1. No, this is definitely not limited to preachers.I often find myself rushing through quiet time with one eye on the Scripture and one eye on the clock, or totally losing track while praying and have my mind wander toward what I need to buy at the grocery store after work or, in some cases, what’s for dinner tomorrow night!

    Just last night I was thinking about how Jesus didn’t rush through His life on Earth. Even though He had a big “agenda”, He took the time to enjoy life. Reading passages where He counsels people to not worry about tomorrow reminds me that I’m not promised tomorrow. Life is fleeting, but God intends for us to make the most of it, to enjoy it and savor it while at the same time taking care of His business in His time, in His ways.

  2. Familiar.  Painfully familiar.  Clearly, it’s one of the biggest vocational hazards for a preacher.  Part of it has to do with the fact that preachers who manage to develop any staying power (in preaching AND at a single congregation) are people who have learned how to manage their reputations.  They know that for the sake of the gospel it matters what other people think.  But maybe preachers start caring too much about what others think.  I’ve done that.  Maybe they’ve been burned.  Maybe they don’t realize how much a loving congregation would let them get away with when it comes to being transparent.  Either way, long-term preachers get pretty good at controlling their public images.  If there’s a sin problem, when it finally comes out, there’s all kinds of shock and astonishment.  "I never would have dreamed that the preacher could __________" (you fill in the blank).  Anymore, I don’t trust stained-glass voices, people who seem like they haven’t laughed at themselves in years, people who constantly operate in prophetic mode (always shouting and sweating), people who constantly operate in pastoral mode (always speaking in sappy phrases and blinking a lot).  That stuff just creeps me out.

  3. I think it is why moral personal inventories are so very important even for preachers.  It’s real easy for me {and I’m not a preacher btw}to read a scripture and think how this could benefit someone else instead of looking at what I need to see or do and I suppose that’s true for preachers as well seeing as they are to be concerned about their flocks needs but what I’ve found is when I just share my own experience, strengths, and hope that whatever it is the other person needs will actually be more receptive then if I try to point out to them what it is they need to do.

  4. Thanks Lisa– I suspect many can relate to what you say regarding having one eye on Scripture and the other on the clock.

  5. Frank,I love this sentence!Anymore, I don’t trust stained-glass voices, people who seem like they
    haven’t laughed at themselves in years, people who constantly operate
    in prophetic mode (always shouting and sweating), people who constantly
    operate in pastoral mode (always speaking in sappy phrases and blinking
    a lot).
    Thanks for your comment and for the caution to all of us who preach.  

  6. When I was a kid, my mom used to chide me for always being in a hurry to grow up. She was right. In some essential ways, I kind of wished my childhood away.

    Those bad habits continued on through my 20’s and 30’s – the busy childrearing, childrunning years. I kept telling myself to savor this time with my kids, which braked my full-speed-ahed-into-the-future habits somewhat, but not enough.

    It wasn’t until I tasted the first grief of watching them begin to leave the nest that I began to come to terms with my deeply-rooted impatience with the present.

    Tasting NOW is a spiritual discipline for me. It is not something that comes naturally to me, and I have to choose to put my full-speed-ahead mentality into neutral. I certainly don’t have it mastered, but I am starting to taste the food in front of me, instead of thinking about what to microwave for tomorrow night’s dinner.

  7. Thanks so much for posting this; I ran across it while looking for folks who have a common interest in Buechner’s writing.  I absolutely love his writing and have been moved with it in many ways (in fact, my blog has one of his quotes in the opening).
    My wife and I have been going through a job hunt for several months now, and at times it’s been difficult for me to recognize that I cannot put God onto my Type A timetable, no matter how hard I try.  It’s often difficult to see how God is working in my life at the time, but when I go back and reflect on things I can really discern how He has been active.  That’s one of the great things about Buechner’s writing — he encourages folks to find the "thread" of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.
    I’ve really enjoyed poking around your blog and hope you won’t mind if I link it to mine for repeat visits.