There's something very odd that happens when you sign on the dotted line that says, "I am now a follower of Jesus Christ." You become hyper-sensitive to anything around you that offends your new-found sensibility. You can't even watch a movie without getting all squeamish and breaking down in tears and resolving to become a missionary in some far-off field (there's a very funny song with seeds of truth about that called, "Please Don't Send Me to Africa").
While your soul becomes more sensitive than a tired, hungry two-year-old and your heart is tenderised by God's giant mallet, it becomes virtually impossible to continue going about your life in any regular fashion (beware, you may take to wearing turtle-necks, saying squeamish things like, "Bless you, my child", or bursting into tears when you see a homeless person). This state of being – feeling like it's just you and Jesus against the world – is just part of the process of coming to know His will.
This can lead to bouts of utter impotence: an absolute mind-freeze that leaves you contemplating the hopelessness of continuing life in a forsaken world, pleading, 'Why, why, why, Lord? Why can't I just be NORMAL?!', much like the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes. 'Well, my child,' says the Lord [always in a voice that sounds like Kamahl], 'these are not days for being normal'.
Like Noah being asked to build the ark, no doubt feeling like a crazy person, if your number's up with God, He won't let you slip on by and carry on as you were. "God will not let anything of ourselves remain," writes Watchman Nee in his seminal text The Normal Christian Life. "His finger will touch, point by point, everything that is not of Him, and will say: 'This must go.'"
Here's the rub: while YOU are being made entirely different, casting off this and that in the name of your faith, the world, for the most part, stays the same. How frustrating! The further down the path to fully realising your faith as a living, breathing, all-consuming aspect of your being, the worse the world appears to become.
The temptation at this point is to:
a) hide under a doona sucking your thumb
b) carry on as you were but face the consequences (read: spiritual unrest/turmoil)
c) go out there pointing to all the ungodly acts of man and poo-pooing all that you can
d) accept that the world is not as it should be and resolving to make it more so, starting with yourself.
As a Christian you must stand for all that's good and true, because that's what the spirit of Christ leads you to do, and the Bible lays the whole thing out loud and clear. But it's not easy, especially if one of the things getting in the way is you. Yes, YOU. And until you are prepared to say no to the duality of your being – fully surrendering to God's will for your life and letting go of your burning ambitions/dreams/desires (worry not, God is no party pooper) as well as any reigning sin – you won't fully experience His wonderful blessings.
So, for example, you might fight like Mike Tyson, but until you are prepared to let go of the idea of your awesomeness, your pride and your talents (or your inner dirty-rotten-scoundrel), and give them all up to God, your life's purpose won't be fully realised. "Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air," said Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:26), and he was converted quite late in the piece: the Tyson of apostles come truly good!
One of your sole concerns as a Christian is to firstly come to the deep conviction that your very nature is faulty/imperfect and can be restored only by faith in Christ. Then, layer upon layer, as parts of your "old self" are given up, fresh new ways of doing, being, seeing come to life and you come to realise, more and more, how very right they feel – you are you, but liberated of all that useless junk that hindered you before. It's like waking up after a long, deep, refreshing sleep.
Over the past few months, I have slowly been culling my magazine collection, to the point of obliteration. Not because they are all bad bad bad, chuck 'em in the tip (some are, and some will be dumped there), but because, in the event of making this part of my work, I have not been able to fully realise – experience, enjoy, delight in, express – my Christian faith. While the physical clutter has been somewhat of a burden, it's the immersion of the self in a world of gloss that is the big bummer.
Last week, I met with two magazine-y friends for coffee, at which point it became blindingly obvious to me that I am so not a part of that world (as if in trying to keep up with the blogging the thought hadn't already twigged... many times). Alex Carlton has left Madison to edit an online magazine? Really? I had no clue. As more a spectator than a participant, a state in which I am much happier, I am most definitely out of the loop. "Those who want to save their life will lose it," said Jesus. Ah, how true.
What's more, it's become quite obvious that the whole project of magazine critiquing is somewhat of a futile exercise, in itself providing the critic with very little enjoyment. Well, durr! Foolish, moi? Aha!
This excerpt from Lynne Truss' book, Get Her Off The Pitch, is something that rings true:
"I don't think sports coverage would be much cop if it woke up one day with a completely realistic attitude about all this. 'Yes, it's Super Terrific Sky Sports Super Terrific Sunday and blah blah are at home to blah blah, but the likelihood of it producing anything memorable is pretty small, so look, we thought we'd give it a miss, because life is precious, have you noticed, and football is quite often a bit disappointing, and besides it goes on and on and on.'
No, better to carry on peddling expectations, and being either totally gob-smacked when things go badly, or justifiably elated when everything turns out well. The supporters expect this Year Zero mentality; for some reason, they don't even see it as dishonest... In the end, this kind of willful amnesia is a gift, and I'm quite envious of people who have it. 'Why don't I ever learn?' is not a question they ask themselves. Which, in itself, satisfactorily explains why they never will. If it's any consolation, I have made a great discovery. The less you know about football, the more you can enjoy it.
... Since loving sport is all about keeping up with it, I'm aware I have broken its first commandment by not knowing anything. When you are involved in the world of sport, you are never meant to use the words 'I', 'didn't', 'know' and 'that' in a sentence, especially not if you put them in that order. But what the hey. It is good to know that at least the spirit of curiosity has survived. And if occasional appalling humiliation is the price, I suppose it must be endured...
You see, what I want to argue here is that knowing all about sport may seem to enhance one's enjoyment of it, but actually:
a) it's quite time-consuming, and
b) it leads to despair, so
c) in short, it is a trap we should all avoid if we possibly can.
I am in a position to attest all this from experience. But just look at all the dedicated football fans you know and ask yourself: does their deep and wide knowledge of football make them happy? We all know the answer is no.
And yet, every month, I live/d in quiet hope (where else but Christ can this be found?). And I am still occasionally delightfully surprised by what I find, and yet am also terrified by the idea that I AM WASTING MY TIME; not just in the sense that magazines are frivolous, or that their content doesn't change much or that their values are so completely out of whack with my own, but by Christian standards, the only work deemed worthwhile is that which works for the good of God's people and can be measured against the life and work of Christ.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things," recommended Paul (Philippians 4:8). And who am I to argue?
To my mind, Jesus wasn't out there in the world beating it with a big stick, though He gives very clear instructions for living in the Sermon on the Mount, because genuine love is "not boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irresistible or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth." (1 Corinthians 13). Love compels us to act in a way that is self-edifying as well as encouraging to others; the truth might be uncomfortable but should always be framed in the context of love.
When Jesus called people to Him, He didn't stand there smarting, pointing at their sin. He simply said, "You are forgiven and healed, now turn away from your sins." How can one turn their vision of their place in the world upside down for the merry betterment of people rather than bitter resentment that all is not right in the world, and yet still happily coexist in a place that is not entirely commensurate with your welfare or new state of being?
The best you can do is be conscious of the fact that your freedom was a gift of grace, and therefore you should extend this to others while gently suggesting there might be a better way. In your daily life, and your work and relationships, you should do your utmost to reflect those values to which you were called to live by, while humbly accepting that not all is right in the world.
It's for you to enjoy the fruit of your faith and your relationship with God, and to make the necessary sacrifices that are required so you can more fully experience His presence in your life. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," said the Lord (John 10:10). The overflowing of this state of self should be proof in the pudding. It will, in turn, be a blessing to others (for some, blessings in disguise).
We all have a yesterday. (And lots of people will delight in reminding you of that!) The important thing in life, I think, is that we are progressing in some way towards maturity. It is healthy to have a sense of our failures, our flaws, our shortcomings, our wretchedness – and as a Christian, this is a prerequisite – but to dwell in the Land of Yesteryear, whether that be a happy place or a place of frightful awfulness, is never a good thing. You could be missing something!
"When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known," said Paul to the Corinthians (13: 11-12). I have grown up, and the Satchel is (slowly) following suit. I hope you might hang around to see what's to come.
As Martika once sang: "Love, thy will be mine; And make me strive for the glorious and divine; I could not be more, more satisfied (satisfied…); Even when there's no peace outside my window; There's peace inside; And that's why I no longer run (I no longer run); Love thy will be done... No longer can I resist the guiding light; the light that gives me power to keep up the fight."
When your guiding light is Christ, you don't have to run from the world: you can run straight into it, head on, and not be afraid, with the knowledge that, hey, since there's nothing of yourself left to lose, why not leap and bound with great gusto along the path God made for you to choose?
Christ made us free. So stand strong. Do not change and go back into the slavery of the law. (Galatians 5:1)
Girl With a Satchel