Saturday, May 06, 2006

You're Learning to Sit Charlie Brown!

I'm the youngest in my family, and the only boy. When I was around 3 years old, the only kids my age were a little girl down the block named Lucy, and another one named Sally. My parents started calling me Charlie Brown. At first that was cute, I guess.

Growing up it was fun to watch the looks on the faces of kids who came over for dinner. My mom would say "Charlie, please pass the potatoes" and I would. My guests would always look so confused!

But over the years, I began identifying with Charlie Brown more and more, and that has been painful at times.

Charlie Brown never works up the courage to go talk to the Little Red Haired Girl. Growing up I so desperately wanted to feel loved, to feel wanted. But I was horribly intimidated by girls. They always seemed so confident and sure of themselves. And it wasn't until my senior year of High School that I had a girlfriend.

I've never been good at sports. I've tried a few, but in the really athletic ones I've always been overshadowed by the guys with natural ability. Charlie Brown has never been able to kick the football Lucy holds. And he always falls for it when she promises not to pull it away "this time".

I played baseball from 2nd through 8th grade. I was almost always the pitcher. In those 6 years I had just one season where we won more games than we lost. I hit a home run...once. Most of the time I struck out...and was laughed at, mocked, and teased mercilessly for it, just like Charlie Brown.

Most of my life I haven't dwelt on it or anything -- it is just kind of out in the back of my mind somewhere. To this day my dad still calls me by that name, only he spells it Charley. One of my sisters still calls me "Charles" sometimes. But it became no big deal for me. I guess I walled it off in my heart and figured if I did that it wouldn't hurt, and wouldn't wreck my day-to-day life.

Then one day when I was in my late twenties, I played softball for the company team where I worked. We were in the playoffs and it was down to the last game. If we won, we'd go on to the championships. If we lost, we were done. I made some amazing plays that day. Diving catches and split-second throws to make an out. I even got a couple good hits, and scored a run or two. But then it was the last inning. We were behind by 1 run, and there were 2 outs. And it was my turn to bat. We had a runner on second base, and he was a fast guy. I knew all I had to do was get on base with a single, the guy on second would score, and we'd win. I was nervous, but also confident. I watched the first pitch go by. Strike one. "That's OK," I thought, "I have one more chance (2 strikes = 1 out in that softball league), but I have to wait for my pitch." The next pitch was an obvious ball, so I watched it go by. I knew if I walked, it would be OK, but also set up a force out situation, which narrowed our chances of winning. Our best chance was for me to get a single. The next pitch came and it looked good enough that I knew I couldn't chance not swinging. I swung even and clean...and got under the ball too much. It went looping up into left-center and fell right into the glove of a waiting opponent. The game was over. The season was over. The playoffs were over. We had lost.

I had lost.

No one laughed at me, though. No one teased me. Guys came up and told me how it was OK, that I had played a really good game. Everyone was a good sport. Except me. All I heard was the voice in my head saying "You're Charlie Brown. You're a loser, and you always will be."

I went to my car and just sat there for a few minutes. I felt so hopeless. I began praying and that turned into a few tears and that turned into me sitting in my car, all sweaty and dirty, begging God to change me -- sobbing to Him that I no longer wanted to be Charlie Brown the Loser.

He comforted me, and I moved on. But me being Charlie Brown -- that stayed in the back of my mind and wouldn't go away.

In earlier posts I've mentioned how isolated and friendless I've felt at times in my life. Charlie Brown knows how this feels. I suppose Lucy is his closest peer, but she is bossy and rude and self-centered. He pours out his heart to her and she trashes him. Like in this comic strip (click to enlarge):

Schulz's masterful work is stunning, as he captures Charlie Brown's expression in that last panel.

Lucy trashes him on multiple levels here. Not only does she blow off his heartfelt plea, she tells him to wish for something else. And as if that weren't bad enough, what she is really saying by this is
"Charlie Brown, you'll never have that kind of friendship. What a stupid thing for you to think you could ask for. You might as well ask for wings Charlie Brown. You having wings is less of a long-shot than you having friends."
Ouch. But I know her voice only too well -- that is the way the enemy lies to me. I long for things and the enemy tells me to give up; give in; surrender to the loss and pain. Like Charlie Brown, I am left in the last panel of the comic with an expression of pained resignation and grief.

In the opening scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas Linus says:
Charlie Brown, of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest!
Ever since that day in the car, my prayer to God has been to reduce or even take away my Charlie Browniness. God comes and hears my prayer saying I don't want to be like this anymore. And He answers that prayer.

But not by taking away my Charlie Browniness.

And I'm actually glad.

See, Charlie Brown loves life and doesn't know when to quit. I guess he is an eternal optimist; his glass is always half-full. I love that about him. I am wired that way too!

See, God didn't take me away from my Charlie Browniness. He is taking me through it. He didn't take it away from me either: He is redeeming it in me.

Almost 20 years ago I became friends with a guy whose name really is Charlie Brown. He has been a friend, pastor and mentor to me. That has been a long-term part of the redemption of that name in my life.

But just over the past year and a half or so, God has done some really amazing things in my heart. He has healed and restored broken parts of it.

In taking me through my Charlie Browniness God is showing me my tendency to get up and run away or run around in circles trying to make something happen. I try to take matters into my own hands and fix the brokenness there. But I can't. I've tried too many times and failed too many times now to think I really could fix anything in my own heart, let alone someone else's. They say "experience is the best teacher." Nuh uh. Failure is.

In Standing I talked about the call to perseverence in trials; how that is following Jesus. I also talked about how, when the Bible talks about "standing" it is more than just "standing around". I am also learning that "sitting" means more than just "sitting around".

Like "standing," "sitting" is not passive. It is active. There is an active intention within "sitting". Instead of running around trying to fix something, and instead of trying to coerce God into following my agenda, I am just "sitting". But in that place of "sitting" I am actively staying present with the moment and the emotions and allowing God to do whatever He would like to do.

God is showing me the above comic strip is like my life, but it doesn't end with Charlie Brown trying to fix anything. He sits in that place of pain and the comic strip continues. Rather than take away Lucy's rude comment, or take Charlie Brown away from Lucy, Charlie Brown has to just sit there for awhile and feel the pain.

I'm learning to just sit and feel. I'm learning to sit still and really feel the pain and heartache and loss and emptiness. God is showing me this is how the comic strip continues:

In that place of loneliness, I cry out to God. I cry out to Him not for Him to follow my orders. I cry out for Him to be with me. I just cry out for Him. In that place of weakness, I allow Him to be strong. I just sit with Him in those painful places and allow God to be there with me, and just be God.

I'm learning He is the best friend I could ever have.

~ charlie brown

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