Controlled Burns

 Photo: Tristan Fortsch, KATU-TV

Photo: Tristan Fortsch, KATU-TV

Fire

There's a part of my personality that gets the best of me at times. It's the part of me that gets things done quickly and with excellence. It's also the part of me that burns people who get in my way.

In forestry and farming, there's a method of working called, "controlled burning."  It's when a fire is set intentionally to remove brush or to clear an area. When the fire is controlled, it can be a useful method. But there are times where the fire gets out of control. And each time I see an instance of a controlled burn gone wrong on the news, resulting in a devastating wildfire, I think of how closely it mirrors this character defect of mine.

Let's face it. Some of us are very driven people. Nothing annoys us more than a project that takes too long, an appointment that could have been handled by someone else, or an extended episode of small talk. And when these things happen, we start to burn. 

Most of the time, the burn is controlled. We each have a particular well of patience within us. Some things that we deem unnecessary are, in fact, necessary to the process, the job, or the conversation. But now and then we lose it. 

  • We might "burn" by bolding or capitalizing text in an email thread where everyone on it (in our estimation) has started to drift away from the intended purpose of the email.
  • We might "burn" by interrupting someone in a conversation where we already know what they're about to say when we are in a hurry. 
  • Maybe we "burn" when we are working with someone who is less experienced than we are at our craft, so we barrel over them to get the work done, instead of taking the time to bring them along with us and let them learn from our experience at their own pace.

I often feel myself beginning to burn when my kids are taking too long to decide what they want to wear in the morning, and I reach into the drawer, grab the first thing that I see and say, "Here. You're wearing this!"

I could recount instance after instance in my life where I've allowed the burn to get out of control solely for the sake of expediency.


Why am I Like this?

In the Book of Romans, the writer is lamenting how many of us are wired, writing:

One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who can resist God’s will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’
— Romans 9

I can only speak for myself, but I say those very words to The One who formed me more times in a day than I can count.

I don't like this part of my character. After the burn passes, I am always filled with deep regret, thinking, "Welp. There it is. I've done it again."

I make my apologies, and I restore any relationships that were strained, and I keep working myself to respond differently next time.

Over the years, I've seen minimal progress, but I have seen improvement. 

In the early years of my work, I didn't even recognize that I was burning people until they said something. And when they did, it was tough to hear. But I was glad they brought it to my attention.

So I began asking God to help me recognize when the burns in my life were started to reach uncontrollable levels. And God has. There are unanticipated burns that sneak up on me from time to time without me noticing them, and people get hurt, and I need to make apologies to them.

R.C. Sproul once said, 

The closer we are to God, the more the slightest sin will cause us deep sorrow.
— R.C. Sproul

And I can honestly say that over the years, as I've kept asking God to be a part of this defect in me, what is "slight" has caused me as much deep sorrow as the "extreme" did in the earlier years of my work. 

And I suppose that is progress.

Wherever you are in your life and work today, know that you are known. It seems the more that I explore the spiritual life, the less I can say who or what God is. But what I do know is that when God is working in my life, it looks like ruthless, honest self-awareness where I minimize nothing about the parts of myself that can be better.

I leave you today with a bit of Lewis that says it better than I ever could.

God knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all, not least yourself.
— C.S. Lewis

So keep at it. Enlightenment comes in excruciating increments. 

Selah.


 
 Ryan Phipps is the Senior Minister at Church In Bethesda.  Raised in the church, becoming a pastor was the one thing Ryan vowed he would never do. After spending many years away from faith, he found that for all of its flaws, the church can still occupy a unique place of good in the world if it is willing to evolve with reason and empathy.  Ryan has a special place in his heart for those who have been damaged or disillusioned by the church, and longs to lead those within it toward a more just and generous expression of itself.  Ryan is an  INTJ  on the MBTI and a  5w4  on the Enneagram.   

Ryan Phipps is the Senior Minister at Church In Bethesda.

Raised in the church, becoming a pastor was the one thing Ryan vowed he would never do. After spending many years away from faith, he found that for all of its flaws, the church can still occupy a unique place of good in the world if it is willing to evolve with reason and empathy.

Ryan has a special place in his heart for those who have been damaged or disillusioned by the church, and longs to lead those within it toward a more just and generous expression of itself.

Ryan is an INTJ on the MBTI and a 5w4 on the Enneagram.

 

Ryan Phipps