Getting Punched Felt Good

March 11, 2011

After a few big posts, I’ve only got a handful of words on my mind today that I want to share with you.  But the few words are really good.

Wednesday night, I drove to downtown Kansas City and attended the Episcopal cathedral’s Ash Wednesday service.  I didn’t take anyone with me.  No one but my wife knew where I was.  I haven’t attended this church regularly in a decade and a half.  It was kind of like a secret “Me and God” activity, like a father and son day where no one else is allowed to come along, except I didn’t bring my baseball glove. 

I think pastors need those “secret” activities once in a while.  Something where they aren’t the leader, and no one knows them, and they don’t have the ritual memorized so maybe they fumble a bit with the bulletin like a church noob.

Anyway, I don’t know if every pastor and priest says the same thing when they smear the ashes on peoples’ faces.  The priest on Wednesday night said to me, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Bam.  Do you ever get one of those moments where some words just punch you in the face, but you somehow feel better after getting punched in the face?  This was one of those moments.

Because some days, I feel pretty great about myself.  And other days, I feel depressed.  And very little of what controls my mood are things that actually matter.  My mood is often dependant on very unimportant, trivial things.  Sometimes I’m envious of other people.  Sometimes I wonder why someone else should have what I want. 

But other people who I’m envious of are just dust too.  Why should I care about what that dust over there is doing?  Why does that dust’s success somehow mean that I am a failure?  Why should I be straining for things that are out of my reach and being unhappy, when one day, I’ll return to dust anyway?

It’s kind of funny how such a humbling statement could make me feel so much better about my life.  Reminding someone they are dust should be kind of discouraging.  Confronting mortality should be depressing.  But it was freeing.  Not in a way where I’m going to sit on my couch and smoke pot for the rest of my life because I have no ambition.  It just put things in perspective again.  I am dust, and I don’t have to try to be anything else, because in the end, I will return to dust.

Okay tell us what has punched you in the face (in a good way) lately.  Someone’s message or story or song or anything else that made the world seem better.

24 responses to Getting Punched Felt Good

  1. “Jo, I’m a newer believer, and you’ve been raised in the church. You know way more Scripture than I do, and I can’t tell you anything you haven’t heard before. I just can’t. But right now, your heart is hard, and you’re not listening to the truth. I don’t know what else to say.”

    Ouch. And she was right. “Iron sharpens iron” is an awesome phrase until you realize that your soul is clashing against something else. It wasn’t very fun (for both parties. I didn’t make it easy for her), but it was tremendously worth it.
    Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Rummaging

  2. Hi Matt,

    I’ve tried to think of something which punched me in the face recently… and I come up with nothing. For ages I’ve felt spiritually numb. Weary. As though I’ve heard it all and none of it means anything to me anymore.

    Sorry I can’t contribute to the conversation this morning but I feel empty, hollow, bereft of devotion or content. And I don’t want to fake it.

    Do I love the Lord? Sort of. But nothing to get excited about any more…

    Oh well, they also serve who only stand and bitch.

    John Cowart

    • John, I’m going to be praying that you recieve some kind of encouragement or have some kind of “aha” moment that breaks things loose in your mind (in a good way). And I don’t mean that in a trite or shallow way, and I’m really going to pray for you. I’m young, but old enough to know that the “dry spells” are really tough, really discouraging, really unhealthy feeling.

    • Hey John,

      I wise woman once told me you need to fake it until you make it. I pray that you take the next handful of weeks of Lent to fall back in love with God’s word. You cannot stay the same when you dedicate a portion of your day to reading His word.

      My husband took the challenge Jan 1st and he is transformed. I cannot even believe the difference 10 minutes a day has made in him. I will be praying for you through Lent.



  3. PS from John:

    Just thought you’d want to know– Home Depot is having a sale on Dust Busters.

  4. I also received the ash on my forehead and the humbling phrase about returning to dust. For me this was a return to the familiar.

    However, a few months a go I read something Oswald Chambers wrote that surprised me but made so much sense. Oswald said church attendance, Bible study, and ministries should not take priority over our relationship with Christ. Maintaining an intimate connection with Jesus comes first and going to church, Bible study, and ministries can aid in that, but should not be our main focus. He stated these things, though good, can actually become our idols. Sometimes I’m so focused on how much time I spend reading the Bible that I forget to spend time drawing near to Jesus and seeking Him. It was a great reminder, though a bit jolting.
    Carla recently posted..Catholic or Cath-o-lite

  5. Matt, a touching post about your own relationship with God, and the power of Liturgy. Yes, that is said when every person receives the ashes. It is humbling, and joyful at the same time.

    Peace My Friend

  6. As a surgeon, my job punches me in the gut everyday. Despite how much I do know about the body, their is very little that I know of the mystery of the carbon habitats God put our souls in. Well maybe not everyday. There are some days when I feel like I hit a homerun, but most days there is something that I struggle with.
    Jeremy @ Confessions of a Legalist recently posted..Church traffic flow patterns

  7. 2.5 years ago my wife and I were looking for a church. I knew what I was looking for and found it. After a few email exchanges with the pastors we met face to face. This was a new church plant only 6 months old.

    These 2 guys smelled the stinch of a Pharisee and told me very bluntly. You are so cocky and full of yourself you will kill our church. I was shocked and it took me 3 days to recover. It had to be hard for those guys to do that because I have a pretty strong personality.

    But it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me and they were exactly right upon me reflecting on it. I had switched my hope from Jesus and His saving work to what Carla mentioned above. I was a machine with scripture memory, bible reading etc. I used it to rank myself against other Christians. I had drifted and these guys who barely knew me had the guts to say it and I thank them for it. I am still part of that church and hopefully Jesus is staying my object of hope.

    It takes guts to be a pastor like you Matt and put up with people like me!!!!

    • Heath,

      I’m so glad you were able to hear and then later accept what those pastors told you. It’s so easy to get defensive when it comes to our faith. As part of a small church plant, we’ve actually had to essentially “turn people away”. Not because they were being Pharisaical, but because they didn’t want to so much join our community as they wanted to leave the one they were a part of.

      Super encouraged by your comment this morning, so thank you.
      katdish recently posted..An open letter to the clothing industry

  8. I love the secret pastor adventure! Ash Wednesday is a wonderful reminder that we don’t deserve anything from God. The fact that Jesus paid it all so our soul would be saved, though our body become ashes, that is why Christianity is so amazing.

    The latest aha moments have been insight into some scriptures on miracles. I did a study about Philip that was really amazing. The most life altering revelation lately was this:

    Mark 9:8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

    It’s hard to explain, but finally I relized that Jesus is there regardless of all my circumstances. I didn’t have to find him in church, or the sunset, or in someone trying to do good – he’s just there.

    Thanks for sharing, Matt.
    David recently posted..What If We Dont!

  9. I got punched in the face on Tuesday. I was having coffee with my accountability partner and confessing how frustrated I get when I see other moms of youngsters who bounced back better than I did. I eat well, have done a 10k, a couple triathlons and nothing. I look the same. She gave me some words of encouragement and we preyed about me being content in the shape I currently am (which isn’t a bad shape, just not as thin as others). Later that evening I was doing my Bible Study and something on the commentary struck my core. I am coveting. It never occurred to me that the feelings i have toward my jean size were sin. I have confessed and am in recovery, because knowledge dosn’t make the feelings go away over night! So yeah, I’m a coveter, I didn’t know. I still cannot believe that I have been swimming laps in this sin for several years. Ugh. The punch felt good, and i hope to change as a result.

  10. Went to a one day conference when the Lord smacked me up side of the head with how much I lived for the affirmation of others. Crap…I was hoping He hadn’t noticed! But He did. I get regularly punched out for comparing myself to others (which always ends up on the losing side!)
    Brian recently posted..Shut Up –!!!

  11. I’m a grad student, and last semester was really rough on me. One time at my small group, I mentioned that I had been struggling with anxiety. Fast forward three months…with one thing and another one of the other members and I had not seen each other for 3 months. One of the first things he did was ask me how I was doing and if I was still struggling with anxiety – then, during prayer time, he praised God that things were going better for me. Shortly afterward, I realized that I never remembered what anyone said during prayer time from week to week. Talk about a punch in the face…

  12. Matt, you just hit it on the head every damn time. I am grateful for your blog. Bless you.

  13. The last time was a few weeks ago reading Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness. At one point she quotes the French novelist Francois Mauriac: “There is a kind of hypocrisy which is worse than that of the pharisees: it is to hide behind Christ’s example in order to follow one’s lustful desires and to seek the company of the dissolute.” Ouch.

    Also, I’d never heard of Francois Mauriac either, so no one be impressed.
    David N. recently posted..An American geeks Childhood- No 20

  14. This was mine. Somebody recently told me:

    “Jesus took what you deserve so you could get what He deserved”

    I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that since then.
    Tony Alicea recently posted..Memorize The Song

  15. The music of Jesus Culture has been a bam in the face for me.

  16. We get punched in the face every week at worship. The law part of the sermon does more than punch us, it kills us. So that the gospel may come and raise us again.

    Here’s an excellent example of what I mean:

    Enjoy your ‘punch’!
    Steve Martin recently posted..Jesus tells us how to be more ‘Christ-like’

  17. Thanks for the encouraging post, Matt. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others when we’re striving for more each day. But in the end all of our circumstances and worries will return to the earth, like our bodies, as we come before Jesus. Everything falls away at the goodness of God.
    Brooklyn Cravens recently posted..Hating Change

  18. If you are a pastor, or a preacher, your job is to punch people in the face with God’s law. Not to water that law down to a managable level.

    Then your job is to hand over Christ and His forgiveness of sins.

    There’s far too much ‘how to Christianity’ going on…where nobody is dying…just climbing the ladder to God. Yuk.
    Steve Martin recently posted..Jesus tells us how to be more ‘Christ-like’

    • I’ve gone to a number of churches that do this – punch people with the law every week.

      It does not work for me. I don’t believe that God sent Jesus to punch us in the face each week, even if it is to remind us of all that Jesus has done for us.
      Kathryn recently posted..Title

  19. Matty and friends,

    I was struck by the wisdom of my seven-year-old recently. We were ice skating on a pond. We were heading down a canal and came to a dead end which my son noted. My daughter piped up, “It’s not a dead end. It’s a turn-around.” A dead end? Is there such a thing?

    Lazy Silly Girl