Contacting Craig

To contact Craig for speaking or interview opportunities, email at
Visit his website (Big Fat Grace) at

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Final Thoughts on Brennan Manning's Passing...Third Person Prayers

I miss Brennan Manning. I miss him more now that he is gone, but I was already grieving his passing for over a year, ever since reading his autobiography; “All is Grace”. (Which I highly recommend by the way) I have been thinking about his life since last Friday when he passed away. How broken he was. How he lived a lie in front of people, by hiding his alcoholism, and how that lie is no different than the lies we try to hide from our friends and family too.
Brennan could preach grace so passionately that you’d think he was mad at you for not grasping it. His eyes would be wild and his voice would boom. I listened to his teaching and I’d think to myself that he was so passionate about the message of grace because he was so irate at how churches and preachers have so hijacked it and manipulated it and left us devoid of it’s presence in our hearts. I thought maybe Brennan was an angry crusader who was deeply wounded for the pain he saw in the eyes of those who were there to hear him speak. What I learned by reading his story was that, while this was true, what drove Brennan’s passion and fury when he pronounced the blessings of grace on his hearers was not his righteous indignation at the wounds they carried but the guilty desperation of another failure, another drunken binge the night before, another fractured wail for the forgiveness and cleansing of the Holy Spirit. When Brennan was preaching to those at the retreats he conducted…he was preaching to himself. Brennan was counseling himself in third person. When he would bellow; “Do you believe He loves you in the morning sun and the evening rain? Do you believe that He exists to love you and nothing can ever stop that position of His heart? Do you realize that He loves us just as we are…and not as we should be, because we are NEVER going to be as we should be?” When those words would pour out of him with wild-eyed passion and force, he was really saying them to himself…again. He was really comforting himself once more because he needed to hear it once more. He was thinking, as he spoke to those beat-up and bedraggled in the crowd, about the night before, and the vodka bottle, and the mouthwash, and was it working, and when could he get back to his room and take a drink? And the same voice he preached in would be preaching to him and telling him, “He loves YOU as you are…because YOU will never be as you ought to be either, Brennan.” I wonder how close to tears Brennan was during those years of teaching the grace of God. I wonder if his face turned crimson when the enemy of our souls would whisper in his ear even as he preached of grace… “You failure! You loser! You miserable fraudulent drunk! How can you speak of God when you drank yourself blind only last night? They’re going to know. They’re going to see through you one of these days you know. They’re going to find you passed out and call your bluff and your whole miserable phony life will be exposed and you’ll be finished”
The same thing every one of us faces…only maybe the sin of choice is different. I don’t care much for drinking. I have a different pet sin. Mine is doubt. It’s pride. It’s falseness.
It’s telling others how much God loves them but refusing to believe it for myself. It’s knowing…for the love of God, knowing how He loves us, writing about it eloquently, speaking of it freely, and yet denying it for myself. Denying it so much that I no longer can pray in the first person.
Yes. I want to explain that but first I have to cover one more base.
Last year when I read Brennan’s autobiography and it opened with “This will be my last book” I had to stop. One sentence in and I was already sobbing like a child. I loved this man. I found in Brennan Manning a voice for the longing of my soul. I found someone to remind me that God loved me and to do it forcefully, because it’s the one thing in this world I have the hardest time accepting. There exists a wall in my heart that no amount of beating upon or reasoning with seems to be able to destroy. Not completely. I wrestle with God daily, trying to get a response and in my broken, hardened heart I never seem to find one. I get glimpses but never break through to the relationship I so desperately long for.
When I could finally resume reading the book, I wept my way through it. Wept, sobbed, wailed, and longed. I longed to look at Brennan just once and tell him how he touched me. How he freed me. How without his reminders I’d never have even the hope that someday I’d feel this grace I seek. Brennan gave me hope…even as he had little for himself.
When I came to terms with Brennan’s impending death, I prayed a bold prayer. I knew that one day his passing would leave a huge hole in the world of grace. His voice falling silent would leave a sorrowful echo that needed to be filled. I asked God that if possible, if any mantle falls from Brennan as he leaves this earth…that it might fall on me. I cannot write like Brennan. It would be absurd to try. John Hiatt once said that he was asked to write some songs for Bob Dylan once and he made the mistake of trying to write “Bob Dylan Songs”. He said he only accomplished sounding like bad Bob Dylan. I don’t want to write “bad Brennan Manning“. I can’t be eloquent in the way he was. I won’t be quoting Walker Percy or Dostoevsky. I’m more inclined to reference Gene Hill from Field and Stream or Bruce Springsteen. But I have a similar voice and a similar perspective and something of an ability to communicate. And the need remains. Someone has to speak of grace with a voice still quivering with need. God permitting…it might be me.
I have decided to be more honest than I already have been in my writing. One thing I hear frequently is that my writing connects on a soul-level with people because I describe hurts, or wounds, or joys in great detail. If I am revealing a broken heart, I can bring you to tears. If I am describing a joy, I can get you to laugh out loud in an empty room.
It’s because I’m honest. I intend on continuing that. Which returns me to the topic of third person prayers.
I have been so battered and broken. So wounded and hurt and hopeless that I can no longer even pray for myself in the first person. I lost my career and my house and all the things I’ve outlined here before. I lived through that alone…without very much comfort from those I thought of as friends. The town I live in is a wealthy place and they don’t abide poverty and failure very well. And I have been poor and I have failed. And then it grew into hurt and shame…so much shame. And the shame became hardness, because shame will kill you if given enough time so you harden your heart in an effort just to breath another day. A hard heart in a poor man’s body who is cloaked in failure is not a popular thing to behold in the eyes of people who are generations removed from struggle and pain. It’s just how it is. Kindness was in very short supply. Understanding and comfort were operating in the red. Love and tenderness were scarce.
I was hurting and broken and the very people I wanted and needed to help me, to remind me…daily if need be…that I was not a failure. That I had been a success. That I was staying here for my daughter and it was the right thing to do. That God was up to something and if I just hung in there one more day I’d find out what it was…those people instead just smacked me across my mouth and told me to get over my pain and go get a job and stop complaining about how my life was. And so I hid. I hid the hurt because I loved those folks and I respected them and I thought…”I guess they’re right. It must be me” So I tried to gain their love and their favor and their approval even as I rebuilt my life. I studied in my car and finished my degree. I wrote two books, and three blogs. I started a small carpentry service and finally got myself a place to live. I graduated from college last May. You’d think it would garner a little pat on the back, but nothing. I published another book at Christmas…it was a good book and I was proud of it. Still…nothing. I got accepted in Seminary. Barely a notice.
I couldn’t figure out what it would take to feel like I had earned their love and affection and their caring concern. Re-read that last sentence. Earn it? You don’t earn that, Christ commands it!
Last fall the market began to weaken again. Jobs were more scarce. My landlord sold her house and in February I was homeless again. Since February 3 I have been sleeping in my truck again…after 14 months of having a home. One step up…two steps back. And nobody knew because by then I figured it out…they didn’t care. They weren’t going to.
It got to me. I felt like maybe they were right and I was wrong and I was the screw-up. I fell back into my old patterns of thinking…“Since these good and godly folks feel this way about you maybe this is also how God feels“. These last 2 ½ months have been painful and lonely and have hurt worse than the entire four years I was previously homeless. I feel great waves of doubt and fear, punctuated infrequently by my natural optimism.
I stopped praying altogether. Because I assumed that God felt that same way His emissaries here feel about me. I assumed He was mad at me for some unrevealed sin, some slight I’m not aware of. I figured He wasn’t going to hear my prayers for myself anymore.
I could pour out my heart for my friends and especially for my daughter…but to ask God for anything that might bless me or help me or be loving towards me or ease my troubles…I could not imagine him hearing me and eventually, I could not even attempt to ask. So this morning I had to pray in third person. I prayed for me the way I pray for my daughter… “Dear Lord…please bless Craig. Please touch his life. Please open some doors and provide for his needs and please restore what he’s lost. Please honor his love for his daughter that has kept him here in this place in which he feels so very lost. Please look at his love and dedication to her and bless that. Please give him a home and some rest for his soul. Let your face shine on him.” I prayed for me the way I would pray for me if I was someone else and met me walking down the street. I had no choice. These things had to be said and I couldn’t say them normally. I had to Gerry-rig something to make it work.
What I need right now is what Brennan needed and apparently never had. I need someone…a real friend who will not grow weary of reminding me…who will not cease to pray with me and comfort me and who will resist the urge to tell me to suck it up and go get a job and get on with my life. Someone who will remind me of the good things I’ve done and help me forget the screaming voices of the failures. Someone who will stop me mid-sentence when I begin to doubt and to blame myself. Brennan needed that. Maybe he would have finally beaten that bottle if he’d found that reminder somewhere. I have decided to become that for someone else, in the hopes that some of that will splash on me as I pour it on them. I’m a broken, battered, embarrassed, ashamed, wounded ragamuffin. I used to be a successful man, I owned a home, I had a good life. Now I am a shadow and I need someone to shine on me and to not give up until I shine again myself. While I do this for others through my writings, I hope to find it for me.
I hope you’ll join me.

No comments: