I am struggling. Here is how I am struggling. I wonder, and have wondered for some time, if I am doing enough, maybe doing the right things. I took a class at Regent College recently and while it was affirming in good ways, I wondered whether I work hard enough at preaching. I enjoy speaking, and I enjoy how I go about it but after listening to a good man who is passionate about preaching teach, I felt like I should be doing more, or doing it differently. And then when I work at a School of Spiritual Direction, I often feel like I am not thinking well enough, not going deep enough with people. Those are two areas where I feel like who I am is not enough. Here is a third: so much emphasis on doing and serving, being missional is the phrase of the moment in the Christian subculture. I feel it in my own community (local vs. church) though I could probably think hard enough to come up with a few ways I have helped others and served (I am mowing someone’s yard today. There. I feel better.) Perhaps this nagging voice of guilt I hear is and will always be present. Perhaps it is part of the tension of living as a person of faith in a fallen world as a fallen person. I am praying for some peace.
It occurred to me last night after a conversation with Karla over supper (who is often the impetus for my thinking) that Adam and Eve’s “original sin” had so many implications in so many directions. For example, recently as I was doing a series in Proverbs, I was amazed at how much attention Solomon gives to the topic of adultery. And at one point in chapter 2, referring to the woman of adultery, he says that she “forsakes the companion of her youth” and “forgets the covenant of her God.” It occurred to me that the first sin really was the sin of adultery, of giving your heart to another. It is a repeated problem by the people of God. Jeremiah, speaking the words of the Lord, talks in chapter 2 about the early devotion of the people of God but then they, v13, forsook Him. In other words, they turned their back on God (forsake) and ceased to care about Him (forget).
But now with a different twist on that first sin, my mind went another direction. Adam & Eve were invited toward a discontentment with who they were and how they were made. It wasn’t good enough, was the lie whispered in their ears. There is more. So, this first couple then sought to be something they were not. I think I spend a lot of energy trying to be somebody I am not and thus often am not who I am, which is from where the life of God is then free to flow. Sin at its core often involves comparison and competition. It leads us to forsaking who we are, and ultimately who God is, in hopes of finding something better. Are we so brash to tell the Creator that how I am made is not enough? God have mercy! Well, thankfully, He has and it covers both are weaknesses and our wickedness.
Do you recall in John 17 as Jesus met Peter on the seashore around a charcoal campfire after his colossal failure that there is an exchange that is fascinating and perhaps fits in with this topic? After the “reinstatement” of Peter, Jesus and this disciple are walking together when Peter looks over his shoulder and sees John. That prompts a question: “Lord, what about this man?” Isn’t there always this sense of comparison going on? Jesus responded essentially, “Don’t worry about him. You follow me!” I hear a personal message in his words that echoes down through the centuries: “Kent, you follow me and the plan I have for you, for I have chosen you. You are fearfully and wonderfully shaped for how I want to use you. Don’t be sidetracked by how it looks for others, by what I have asked him or her to be about!”
And then these wonderful words that have the potential to breathe peace into my troubled soul. They are found in Ezekiel’s prophecy, chapter 36, about a coming covenant that we now know to be the New Covenant. This covenant involves a new heart. It also involves something written no longer on stone tablets that are lifeless but on fleshy hearts that are alive with God’s life. But even more, there is this promise of the Spirit of God within us who will, according to Ezek. 36:26, move us to follow God. Sometimes, I am listening to all the other voices within and without and I can’t hear the one Voice that really matters, a Voice inviting me to move in accordance with the One who knows me best and formed me in my mother’s womb. I think when I listen to God’s voice by the Spirit within, I feel a resonance with how I have been made, a lot less consumed with who I am or who I am not, the life of God then free to flow out, with the opportunity to know joy available. In contrast, when I listen to the voice of an unnecessary and wrong guilt as well as the voice of others, I feel a dissonance that causes me to lose touch with my heart and thus, God’s life, and peace and joy are lost (not that they can be captured in some permanent fashion but certainly available on occasion). My energy is then more self-focused.
It occurred to me some time back that a lot of my life has been spent desperately seeking affirmation from others. Deprivation has led to a lifetime of foolish grasping that has caused me to lose touch with who I am. I am instead what everyone else around me wants so that affection and affirmation can be obtained. That is a mighty difficult way to live one’s life and it is not the gospel way. It is the way described in song as “looking for love in all the wrong places.” I need God’s help and your prayer to discover a deep peace in how I have been made, and then the courage to go down deep to listen for God and what He would want of me at any given moment, in any given circumstance. I want to work harder at that, in a good way, and I ask for God’s help even as I pen these words.
One more thought to my rambling: Peter tells us that we have all we need for life and godliness, all we need to be participants in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:3,4). One more implication of the death and resurrection of our Lord, of his New Covenant. If that is true, and it certainly is, then we don’t need to impose things on ourselves. Rather, we need to be freed to release what is already present. But how it will be released is the ultimate issue often in Christianity. What it looks like from person to person will vary. At these variants, we tend to become judgmental and too narrow in our definitions. For example, one person’s hospitality might look like what we would expect: a person good at inviting others into his/her home for a meal and conversation. Others watching might feel guilty because they don’t enjoy hospitality in that way. They might feel judged because that kind of hospitality might feel burdensome, even though on occasion they gladly do it and enjoy it. But if this person is listening carefully to the Spirit, hospitality from her/his perspective might be conversations over coffee at the local coffee shop. This person is equally opening her heart to others and inviting them to taste goodness from her life. It just looks abnormal by our typical definitions. But it doesn’t have to look the same and this then carries over to so many other areas. The point is, God has written certain things into each of our hearts, certain giftedness that looks different for each person, and within community this uniqueness and difference needs honored and not critiqued or judged because it doesn’t fit the “normal" mode. And our definitions need expanded in order to free people to be who God has made them to be.
I recommend two things as I conclude. I recommend you pray for peace and clarity about who you are, how God has made you, and for the ability to hear the Spirit and then courageously follow Him. Secondly, I encourage you to ask God for fresh eyes toward those around you. How can you speak life to them by redefining what they do, who they are, in terms that are part of God’s kingdom work and thus, life-giving?
A small example from yesterday. My son invited me to go golfing with him. I was depleted from travel. I felt raw from pouring out. And often in my life and job, I am the one who initiates contact and creates interactions. This day, to have someone else move toward me and invite me to do something with them that actually refreshes me really touched my soul. I told him so. His pursuit of me in an area that he really enjoys (part of how God has made him) breathed life into my weary soul. It can seem so small, so easy to dismiss. It is not. It matters. Take me up on my recommendations today.
Live in and under the grace and peace of our God. The best is yet to come.