4AM on Christmas morning.  My kid asleep in the bed, I took the couch.  My jet lag or the lack of comfort had me up all night spinning out about everything you can imagine.  If my thoughts had any weight to them they would have destroyed me.  But I’ve come to know and my best friend Mary always reminds me, the average emotion has about a 90 second life span and just pausing and not believing my own bullshit is the ultimate remedy.

Starbucks is open, not all of them but the one I love 4 blocks away that let’s homeless folks stay the night.  I arrive before 5.  The CPD followed me for 2 blocks, Chicago is no place these days for dark night walkers.  The guy in front of me waits for his refill but is denied because 5AM is the cut off for previous day free refills and he’s been here all night.

I look around.  I am the only white guy even though we’re in the Gold Coast.  Black lives don’t matter as much, anyone who lives in Chicago and is willing to tell the truth knows this.  The barista tells me this was the only location deemed safe enough to keep open all night.  I bet they didn’t expect all these folks to find their way here anyway but coldness and desperation has a way of focusing you on what matters most and helping you find it.

I sit next to old men playing chess.  They are serious.  They have not said a word in more than an hour, intently focused on their next move.  I wonder what else they are thinking about.

A young man is working on his computer, a huge 3 ring binder next to him.  He is clearly focused, I imagine what he could be working on at this early hour, on Christmas day.  He will make it, that level of ambition always does.

Then I realize he’s a pastor, writing his sermon for today’s Christmas celebration.  Now I can’t help but engage.

“I’m chasing thoughts” he responds when I ask what he’s up to.

“where are they headed?” 

“I want to find a way to tell my people how beautiful they are.  I want to remind them of what Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.  Why aren’t we doing this when we need to shine more than ever, when the world has never needed us more?” 

We sit a while in silence a long time.  What’s he asking me for?

I tell him a story. “last night, I watched a video I took from a GoPro attached to my head while I hiked this crazy awesome route to the top of a mountain.  When I was at the top of the mountain I had all these feelings come up about how ugly I felt, how inadaquet.  I observed all these people around me being more devotional than me, more servant hearted, more committed.  I remember so clearly feeling so bad about myself.  Then I watched the video and heard me talking and saw others interacting and I was none of the things I had been feeling.  I sat for a long time blown away at what I saw and how different reality was from what I felt at the time.  It reminded me in a profound way that I am not my thoughts”.

“why you telling me this?” the pastor asks.

“I think it’s the reason we don’t let our lights shine and do the good works Matthew 5:16 talks about.  Our fear of judgement, self criticism and doubt, it overtakes us and moves us to inaction.  I feel like self criticism and judgement is a pandemic in our world. When we love ourselves, we shine. That’s really all we need to work on.”