Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Delaying the Journey

You know, I think I'm mostly trying to write a journal because I want to feel like my life is something worth writing about? Maybe that's why I always stop keeping up with it. Because when it comes right down to it, I don't feel that way at all. I feel like my life is more like... well, you know in books and movies where the person just lives a normal life up until a certain point, and then something happens and an adventure starts? I feel like I'm still at the pre-adventure stage. Which is totally not good. The adventure should have started the moment I became a Christian. But I didn't let it.

I'm a thinker. I want to know everything there is to know about something before I jump in and try it. I've spent an incredible amount of time now learning about Christianity instead of living it. For the past couple of days, I've been really emotional, and when I'm emotional, I go through this thing where I spend a lot of time thinking and measuring my life, and comparing it to how I think it should be. I compare myself to the character I would have created if I were writing the story. But you know what? I'm not. God is writing this story, and I guess I just need to accept that. I can't rewrite it. I can only add to what the character, myself, has already done.

Don't get me wrong. I've done some cool stuff. But I still feel as though my real adventure, my journey in Christ, is stuck at the pre-journey stage. Like I'm just preparing and preparing in order to stall my departure. Maybe because I'm afraid?

If life were a giant target, and the Will of God, the one place where you're truly, truly alive, was the bullseye, then I'm the kind of person who climbs onto the target at an early age (I got saved at the age of 12) but then runs around on it, crossing the bullseye from time to time but never really staying there. I'm also the kind of person who feels frustrated and defeated because of this. I feel God whispering to my heart, "Has your Journey even started yet?" Because here I am trying to learn to be a good Christian, a good writer, a good wife, a good mom... and I'm getting so distracted that I'm not letting all of those things become part of my adventure. I'm trying to master them before I depart.

At this point, if I were a character in a book, the author wouldn't have even bothered to start writing yet. Or, if they did, they would be writing only the first few pages - the pages that let the reader know a little background, so they're aware of how the character arrived at the place where they were when the adventure finally began.

But why do I keep delaying? Fear, I guess. Fear of failure. Fear of hurting someone without meaning to, because of a lack of foreknowledge, if that's even a word. Fear of rejection, something that's extremely common when you allow your story to be part of Christ's story.

But the truth is, I want all of that. I don't want to be afraid. I want to go through whatever suffering is out there, so I can grow and become closer to God. I've experienced a little of that already, and it really does bring you closer to Him, as long as you stay with Him through it. But that's another page altogether.

I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of delaying the journey. Whether I know everything right now or not, Lord, I'm ready to step out for you and let you teach me fully. There are things you can't learn until you're actually out there, living your adventure. I understand that now. You learn by experience. So let's do this!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My life in a nutshell

I was thinking about the things of God one day, and about my life. As I pondered it all, I tried to fix a picture in my mind of what my life had been so far and what it might become in later days. I often felt as if I was not making any progress – as if, instead of being part of God’s great story, and being out on some quest or adventure, I was just sitting around, being comfortable. Or not really comfortable, actually. I think it was more like I was afraid that I didn’t know enough, or that I would never be ready for that great quest, when the time came to embark.

I tried to do so many things for God. Tried so hard to fix up my life, in order to honor Him and thank Him for the Great Sacrifice He made for me. I was afraid to step out on some great adventure and find out that I wasn’t fully prepared. I had tried a few times to step out – to tell people about the God I had come to know, and to try to convince them that they needed Him… but I only ever did it because I knew I was supposed to, not because my heart ached for them. It wasn’t a love for people that drove me to tell them about God. It was more a sense of duty. God had done so much for me, and I just wanted to live for Him and do what He wanted.

But it wasn’t real. My desire to love and serve God was, but my attempts were shallow and half-hearted. Empty, even. I was trying, but I was failing miserably.
I was willing to do almost anything for Him, or so I thought. But whenever His Spirit would stir in my heart and nudge me in a certain direction, I would balk. “You want me to kneel? Right here, with all these people standing around me? I’ll draw attention to myself, I can’t do that. I’m too scared.” “You want me to ask my neighbors if they’ve heard of you? You want me to go and talk to them and love them? God, I can’t. I’m too shy. What if they don’t like me? What if they reject me because I bear your name?” Even though on my own I was proud to be a Christian, in front of non-believers, and sometimes even other believers, my pride in Christ would vanish like a wisp of smoke. There was no strength to it. No anchor. No rock-hard foundation. It was just vapor.

I guess I was like the seed planted in the rocky soil. I had no root. Just a temporary sense of excitement and passion that would soon fade away, then rise up again, and then fade. Except it never faded completely. I was like a plant that just kept dying and coming back. I needed to be moved into some good soil.

As the years went by, I struggled along on my walk with Christ, often feeling frustrated with myself for my lack of growth. Sure, I changed over the years, but not nearly at the rate that I thought I should. This was no adventure in God. This was just me, failing over and over again to get it right. This was me, truly wanting to do good and constantly doing evil instead. Slipping up. Saying stupid things. Not loving my neighbors. Failing.

I never had a mentor in Christ. I had teachers, but no one that I considered to be a mentor. I think I needed someone to really lead me along, and be a second pair of much-wiser-than-mine eyes to watch what I was doing and point out where I needed to allow God to change me. I was trying to change myself, and even though I managed a few improvements on my character, none of them seemed to stick. The moment I stopped thinking about it, I would falter again.

At least I was trying, I guess. But that’s not much consolation when you’re still failing. I tried to keep my focus on God and to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength… but every time I turned around, I was distracted by something, and I forgot my commitment to the Lord in a heartbeat.

Why couldn’t I just be good? I had Christ in me, had access to the power of the Spirit of God… but I couldn’t bring myself to tap into it. Instead of standing under the waterfall of God’s love, and letting my cup be filled to overflowing, I would run to the spring at the base of the waterfall, dip my cup in, smile, and then run back off again. When I tried to use the water to accomplish things for God, I ran out very quickly, and my attempts always withered when the heat came.

At one point, I turned from God altogether. It wasn’t something I did on purpose, or something that I wanted to do at all. It just happened. I thought I was still loving God, but the truth was that I was completely empty. It was like a mirage, where you think you see water, but it’s not really there. If I had been loving God, I would have been seeking after Him with all of my heart. I would not have been ignoring wise counsel. And I would have listened to the Spirit’s convictions. But I didn’t. I convinced myself that the counsel was wrong, and that the Spirit’s convictions were my own misguided feelings.

In short, I fell. And God let me fall. But if He hadn’t allowed me to realize where I was heading, I might never have returned and given the steering wheel back to Him. If He had stepped in and protected me from hurting myself, I would never have noticed Him there. I would have just kept on going, oblivious to the dangers ahead.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. I am striving for God again now, although I still feel as though I haven’t really learned to let Him guide me. I’m still trying. Me. Somehow I haven’t figured out yet that God is the one with the map.

I think that when I figure that out, God will allow me to be a part of something great. I know He’s doing mighty works in the world, and in people’s hearts, and I long to be in on the adventure, but I’m done trying to set my own course. I want to let Him tell me when and where to go.

The Ship

My friend Kelly was talking the other day about that verse in James where it likens a man's tongue to the rudder of a ship. I got to thinking about ships, and pondering my life in Christ. The next thing I knew, I was typing away at the computer, and this analogy was born.

My life was nothing before God opened my eyes. Before I realized that Christ was calling me, and before I turned to Him, I was just another person on the Island, trying to live happily and to do things that gave me joy. Like so many others, I was seeking the things that I thought would make me successful. When I look back on it now, it feels dark. Like I didn’t understand anything at all.

Then one day Jesus called me out, and I realized that I, along with everyone around me, was a sinner against the Most High God. Christ offered me forgiveness, eternal life, and a new spirit.

The new spirit was like a ship. It was like freedom. It was such a beautiful gift – one that I never could have deserved. I got in and made ready to sail away from the Island forever. But I didn’t know how to run it. No one was there to show me how.

Of course, God also had given me a letter which told me how to use the ship. But it was a very, very long letter, and it took a lot of effort to read and understand it. Plus, I could never remember the parts that I had read. I would learn what to do in a certain situation, but then when it came time to put my knowledge to use, I would forget God’s instructions and revert back to my own efforts.

I never made it to the deep waters. Every time I managed to pull away from the beach and into the shallows, the waves would eventually push me back. Occasionally, I managed to get past the waves, but then there were rocks, and my ship would scrape up against them until I was afraid it would break and be sunk.

Sometimes I would get frustrated and, thinking that I just wasn’t ready to sail yet, I would beach the ship and just sit there on the deck, reading the instructions. Other times, rather than read the instructions or ask God directly, I would just sit there, gazing out at the wide open sea, and wish that I could be there. I occasionally saw another ship out there, sailing along on some great adventure. I longed for that so much, but I just didn’t feel ready. I still tried sometimes, but I always ended up back by the beach.

Of course, there were other ships around me in the same situation. But it didn’t really make me feel better. I wanted so badly to be out there in the open sea, riding the currents and the winds with confidence. I knew that, if I could just learn to listen to God, He would get me there. But it was so much harder than I thought it would be. The waves and the rocks weren’t the only things in my way.
There were also storms.

As I continued to sail around my Island, trying with all my might to get away from it, I ran into a lot of them. Sometimes I saw them up ahead but tried to sail through, thinking I could make it. Other times, it wasn’t my fault at all. They just came up suddenly, and I had no way to prepare. My ship received a lot of damage, but amazingly, it never sunk.

Sometimes I would seek out God’s guidance on how to sail. Often, though, I wasn’t patient enough to wait for His orders, and ended up trying it on my own again. Other times, I would follow Him for awhile, only to be distracted by the beauty of the ocean and the smoothness of the waters. Everything was wonderful after I followed His guidance. I forgot about the terrifying storms, and about the Island that still lay just on the other side of the ship. I would be so happy and peaceful that I would forget that I needed His instruction, and I would soon find my way into another storm.

While I was going through all of this, one day I came across another ship. I had seen other ships from a distance before, but I had never been this close to one up until now. I enjoyed the company a great deal, and soon I and the other ship’s passenger decided to make our journey together. Normally there is a ceremony for this, in which the boats are carefully joined with strong wood, but we had some rope on hand and decided to use that instead, so that we could continue on our way without having to wait for the ceremony.

Unfortunately, the ropes were not as strong as we had thought. Had we sought God’s guidance on the issue, we would have known that ropes tend to snap during storms, and are not sturdy enough to hold two ships steady in such times. We found out the hard way that a normal storm is actually made much worse when two ships are tied together with ropes. We even bumped into some other ships when we were jostled by the waves, causing damage not only to our own vessels, but to others as well.

The ceremony wasn’t far off, and thankfully, although some of the ropes had snapped and we had both been jostled around severely, we made it through and managed to join our ships together in the proper way.

Shortly after this, I sought God out more than ever. I was still suffering from the storm, as was my new partner. I had taken on a lot of water, some of which we are still, to this day, working to bail out. But it caused me to make a tremendous effort to seek His guidance, and I made it further from the shore than I have ever been. I think part of it was because we were both seeking, and sailing in the same direction. We had both opened several sails, and we were moving faster than either of us had ever gone alone.

But then, slowly, I started to try things on my own again. So did my partner. I’m still not sure how it happened, but I guess I started looking at my ship, and sometimes at his, and when I realized what bad shape they were in, I was afraid they wouldn’t make it out in the deep, uncharted waters. Especially with mine. It was easier to see the flaws in my own ship, because I was closer to them. And I knew exactly what had caused each one, because I’d been there when it happened, and I remembered… most of the time.

So I set about trying to repair everything that I had done to tear up my beautiful gift. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good with woodwork. I tried to patch up the holes, but the wood that I nailed on wasn’t very strong, and it kept breaking back off again whenever I turned to work on something else. It was horribly frustrating, and as I continued to work on it, I began to drift back. The waves were pushing me closer and closer to the shores of the Island, but I hardly noticed, because I was so focused on repairing the ship.

What I didn’t realize was that if I had just continued to listen for God’s guidance, he would have sailed me to a place where Jesus Himself could repair my ship for me. Jesus, the one who had built it to begin with, who knew every board and nail and rope, would repair it and make it like new again. My new spirit would no longer bear the marks that my old nature allowed to fall upon it. It would be beautiful again. Whole again.

If I let Him, God would teach me how to sail. He would lead me to the ports he wanted me to stop at. He would take me out to the open waters when I was ready, and if He wanted to, He would lead me and my partner across the world, where we would see Him work His mighty wonders upon the people, giving them ships of their own and setting them free. And then, eventually, I would reach the Great Shore, where God Himself dwelt in all His Glory. And when the world was created anew, and all the evil taken away from it, I would be there with Him, living without fear and without sin, the way we were created to live.

His Guidance was right there in front of me. Within me, even, in the form of His Holy Spirit. All I had to do was tap into it, and listen to His words, and He would show me my adventure.