|'How many kinds of trials are there?' by DaySpring|
What propelled him along, I wondered? Was it the wish for good health of heart, the desire to look like 'one of the hip and cool crowd' in their clothes designed for the slim, some unthinking comment by a friend or passer-by, or a deep conviction that his body is a poor reflection of his true self, that it had somehow betrayed his heart?
Was it the run of a desperate cry or a determined young guy? Would he reach some finite point where he could feel happy and content? Or would this be an ongoing, laborious journey, up unforgiving hills and down steep inclines? What end in sight? A better life? What does that look like? For what purpose this submission to physical pain? What gain?
Truthfully, I could identify with that young guy; the arduous task stretched out before him, not quite sure of its purpose, of what was really propelling him. Trying this and that to appease the feeling that all is not right; making horrible, embarrassing mistakes; pushing people away; desperately running everywhere to escape the person you are, or who you are terrified you are becoming; scribbling notes into journals into the night in the desperate hope that the problem – you – could be solved once and for all.
Only when I started out, the journey looked more like a molehill than a mountain. 'I can conquer that!' I thought, slinging my satchel across my back, not realising that in this life, there are many mountains to climb, a series of them rather than a steep incline, depending, of course, on the course set out for you. Just you. Yours looks quite different to mine... my fears are not yours, my choices not yours, my ups and downs quite unlike your own.
We may share the same God, the same company even, but God will speak to each of us in a particular and peculiar fashion, which, together with free will, is such a thrilling thought... that we might be permitted to have our own personalities melded and molded and loved by Him all the while He is making us over from within, all with no expectation that we might submit to Him, though He is ever hopeful that we do because you finally see, with all clarity, that is His way of loving you.
My dear friend Adrian Plass, whom I have never met or spoken to or even corresponded with, but who kept me company (as did many old dudes of the faith whose words, for some reason, appeal in a fatherly yet jocularly brotherly sort of way) on this strange and weird Christian journey out of self, into a sort of self-forgetfulness and onto something best described as wonderfully functional, described the transformation that takes place as being akin to adoption into a new family:
"It isn't like joining a club; more a matter of deciding where to put down your deepest roots. The candidate for adoption will need to visit the home in which he has been offered a place so that he can see the head of the household in action, without the pressure of immediate decision or commitment. He will see his prospective father being very firm, punishing his children at times. He will see him being very loving and forgiving as well. He might well see him rolling on the floor with the kids, laughing and joking...
Eventually, the spirit of the place will get right in side him. He'll mature and learn that he really is wanted. The rules will suddenly seem much easier to keep, in fact they won't seem like rules after all. He will probably be given one or two responsible tasks to perform on behalf of his father. In the end, he will be so well tuned in to his dad's voice, that a single word will bring him flying to his father's side saying excitedly, 'Yes! What do you want me to do?"
And because of this relationship, this awe-inspiring, depth-defying, high-wiring love between you and He, even though the road ahead looks rocky, you no longer feel the weight of expectation upon your shoulders that you should be anything but that which He created you to be... you tread, not easily, as the world will keep your feet firmly planted on the ground (though you might feel you are flying when you are in that space where it is just you and God), but with less of a trudge, more of a skip.
At least, theoretically, most days. Because when you – like Peter walking on (on!) the water toward Jesus – start to doubt (was he worried what the other disciples were thinking? Did he get a chill? Did he think his hair looked flat? Did he think, 'This is crazy, what the heck am I doing?'), there will be times when your balloon is popped and all the air gets sucked out.
But the great beauty, the true beauty of this is that when you awake from your momentary stupor, your human vulnerabilities become all the more clearer and you start to address them. One by one. You cannot eat all of them at once. You would become bloated on your folly and awfulness (believe me, I tried). And, what's more, He is still there... He never leaves. Never says, 'I give up on you... get a clue!', even if the whole wide world is saying, 'There is nothing remotely special about you'.
Context is also enormously helpful upon embarking on such an adventure, taking in the bigger picture. Understanding that in this life, there are no fixed points, that everything is in a state of flux, as wars arise and others subside and cancer diagnoses take families by surprise, as evil men prosper while the poor suffer and disappointments threaten to steal away dreams. And that as much as you might understand or control this untameable world, you simply cannot. Not without the wind coming out of your sails.
So better to fix your eyes on something beyond the horizon, something much bigger than you, something that says, 'This is the truth' and seeks to reward you for finding it and that will do everything within its power to hold onto you and keep you drawing nearer to it. Something that looks like a cross in the distance, or perhaps a star. Way back when, three wise men were reported to have followed one to the source of its light, a Holy Saviour, they say. The Christmas Story they call it.
It suggests that God loves you and wants you to love Him in return so made away for the pardoning of your disgraces, your mistakes, your unfortunate quirks of personality. Could it really be? Really? Absolutely! In Christ, there is a finality. Us? Not so much... until the day when we can say, 'I am truly home', this world and our experience of it will always feel somewhat uncomfortable.
In order to navigate our way around out there, we can't be all filled with despair. It would be too much. We would constantly be looking around and feeling glum and maybe even numb. So if we should choose to sign on the dotted line that say, 'Yes, I would like to be a Christian', we simply can't stay as we are if we're to experience the full enjoyment and thrill of the ride – we can't close our eyes.
Shooting for the stars may seem like a stab in the dark, but when the darkness eventually subsides, everything starts to make sense. It's like an algorithm, with each part of the equation falling into line, adding up to YOU as you were meant to be. In this context, your own suffering takes on an illuminating quality, while the world's woes at once make you want to cry but also to try to alleviate that reality in some way, because you cannot bear the thought of leaving it that way.
Even just a corner of a room within the galaxy may do; that is up to God and you. And something to keep in mind: while everyone appears to be in a mad rush, God's timing is quite different. He will not give you more than you can handle, nor expect you to skip to the next grade if you haven't passed the last one with flying colours. He is a patient, kind and encouraging teacher – the best sort of all, and He makes everything come to life in a way that even Walt Disney could not replicate.
And from this state of delight in Him, everything else in life can be negotiated. You are deliciously free and able to love all and everything with abandon; to cry and laugh and say "cest la vie!". To look at a world full of hate and animosity and say, 'I will have no part of that today!' or 'I really wish things were more this way [insert suggestion here]'. To just be. And to not be afraid.
Fix me, Jesus, fix me
Imagine a girl so terribly anxious and frightened and worrisome that she just about died from fright every day of her life. She was so incessantly worried about what people thought, that there came a time when she just about crumbled up like a piece of paper and hurled herself into a waste basket.
Such a girl might try to cling to all sorts of things, from the teddy-bear in her bed to the boy who is bound to betray her heart, to positioning herself inside cafes day after day in search of solace and company, just to keep from feeling those awful feelings; the Terrible Inadequacies, the Depths of Despair, the Destestable Self.
She might even turn to food, or to television or burrow into work for comfort. She might treat herself in an unkindly way or treat herself too often to things that made her happy only temporarily. She listens to endless songs that soothe her humanity, playing some so much she becomes annoyed with them, but she fails to address the core of the problem.
She cannot see that for all her striving, she has been going it alone and God is calling her home where she can kick off her shoes, take off a load, sit a while, learn a few things and lay her head down to sleep in a rocking chair. Here, in His presence, she can be just as He intended her to be. At first, she fought the notion of sitting still, resting, being loved. But she sees now that that was very necessary.
To get her there, she was laden with an injury – a sweet mercy in disguise that lay her up in bed so that each morning and night she might absorb the story of a good and compassionate God, writing Him letters, musing on his Words and getting to know the history of His people and the purpose of His Son... formerly, they had been but fleeting acquaintances. The sort you see at a party and say, 'Oh, hello, I wish we could spend some more time together but, you know, life is busy busy busy!'
And then your father orders you to get off the merry-go-round because it is time to go home (besides, you have had enough ice-cream for one day).
And so, your pilgrimage begins to the sound of a great symphony; the violinist playing your solo so sweet to the ear that it is all you want to hear. Everything else, in contrast to this tune, seems vulgar. You shut it out. The composer creates special communications between you and He, all the while the sheet music flutters into view, each and every note pointing towards one thing. You simply cannot look at anything in the same way.
It's almost as if you were the only person existed, as you sit under the stars and look up and try to count them – perhaps one has been made just for you? A twinkly tribute. The temptation is to keep this wonderful truth all to yourself; the truth that softens the hardest heart and tempers the sorrows. But at the same time as you raise your hands with praise, and say, 'I want to be only yours for the rest of my days!', there is a growing awareness that you are not okay.
This is, you will find, a prerequisite. How can we know loveliness if not in contrast to ugliness?
Once terrified of what might be revealed by the Old Testament, the girl instead finds it populated by characters with deep imperfections: consolation! David, for all his love for God, stumbles and falls. King David! The one who sleighed Goliath in his youth, who chased after God's own heart and said, "Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
He could not conquer himself, such was the inequity, the perilous state, of his humanity, and that led to consequences, but, oh!, how he loved God and felt His blessings! David demonstrated that self-examination is a necessary prerequisite for recognising those things which cannot be hidden.
Foolish as we may be, we cannot fool God, cannot hide anything, cannot escape the necessary recognition of our wretched human condition. "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul," wrote Peter.
Flying to the moon and back
Often we don't know that we are lost until we arrive at a place in which we feel we are found. Though we may journey far and wide, it is right there inside where the real "us" resides often underneath the clutter of life, the weight of expectation, false affectation.
What is being covered up? We simply must get to the core. At what point did the desolation, the disconnection, the discombobulation begin? A broken heart? Abandonment? A hurtful word? Shattered family? Childhood calamity?
There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there," wrote the journalist G.K. Chesterton. "The other is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place." Sometimes, in order to get to where we began, we first need to go very far away... perhaps even to the moon if you are of the Richard Branson way.
But what if you start out on your way and get... stuck?
With so many different people and things contending for our attention, wanting us to be this and that and not who we were really created to be, life can get awfully confusing and we find ourselves getting off track as soon as we make a start, or else falling back down the hill and onto a familiar track and thinking, 'I did not want to go back... but here I am again. Will I ever escape?'
You are filled with rage – confounded by your own folly, desperately wanting to climb back out of the hole... and tumbling in again and again and again.
Take heart, says Jesus, "Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy... In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" So with Jesus batting for you, your eyes turning from your troubles and towards His victory, you can revert to the right path. "Tears may flow in the night, but joy comes in the morning," wrote David of God.
And you must – must! – enter this state of grace, every single day, in order to go on and become who you are meant to become.
"Do not be afraid," writes the author Andrew Murray, just as Jesus said to Peter as he walked across the water (and failed). "The more clearly you discern the fact that you have said to God that He may have you to make you full of His holy spirit, the more you will feel what a miracle of the grace of God it is. There may be in you things that you are not aware of which hinder the breaking forth of the blessing. God is bent on putting them aside."
As Chesterton and others suggest, in the end, taking significant time out to consider and deal with your particular "issues" may be more expedient than pretending everything is AOK as the storm rages within you displaying itself outwardly in all sorts of ways (anger, jealousy, hate, desperation, neediness, bitterness, alcoholism, eating disorder, martyrdom...). Simply lift your head and say, 'Show me what needs to change!' and deal with all that is revealed.
Caveat emptor, customer! You will not be the same again, and you will need a loving friend or two to see to it that you don't think yourself mad but who will smile graciously (or bite their tongue) when you say things like, 'I never knew that was such a stumbling block for me. I'll be!'.
As God's embrace closes in, you will be utterly convinced of his rightness and your wrongness and nary a thing will go unturned as He goes about cleansing your life of all its disorder, wreck and ruin, and putting you on a sure footing. "The Lord said to his people, 'Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Walk on it, and you will live in peace'". (Jeremiah 6:16)
Finally you might come to accept that grace – for yesterday, today and tomorrow – is the only antidote to slipping into a massive depression when you see that the journey ahead isn't a walk in the park full of daisies and love. And with that grace – that passport to life – you will be able to delight in the view as you make your way. Everything will sparkle. Each day you can say, 'Thank you, Lord - I don't deserve today or anything good that comes my way, but I go into it gladly because I am saved. Hooray!'.
It is a light and easy way to go about life, giving little cause for grumbling, though you'll encounter some devilish people and giant obstacles and will perhaps take on a pebble or two in your shoe. In fact, if you are able to delight in the view as you go, rather than looking at the ground and kicking it around, that's a good sign you are on your way to maturity and full recognition of Christ's good work for you.
The preacher and Christian convert John Newton, author of 'Amazing Grace', put it like this:
Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, "My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!"
Of course, our carriages are broken. We are not guaranteed safe passage through life. There will be tests and trials designed to work for our good (or worked out for our good, depending on your theology), in order that we might learn and be conformed, increasingly, to the likeness of Christ himself with nothing of the "detestable self" left in us to bring destruction on the world, others and ourselves (remembering that God really quite likes us, so better to treat yourself kindly as that's the Godly thing to do, and unto others just the same).
Though we have been put right with God through faith, none of us escapes the vicissitudes, vagaries and variables of life, but still we might learn better how to pray that the perils will not come our way and in the event that they do, that we might be given the grace to handle them. Indeed, to turn amidst the suffering to thoughts of Jesus upon the cross and think, 'What of my troubles in light of this great act of selfless love?' and then to turn away from self-pity and abandon yourself in exchange for him.
It produces the most wonderful things. It makes stellar authors out of Adrians.
Half the adventure of life is becoming the person you ought to be in light of all the turmoil, inside and out; how to negotiate the havoc, devastation and corruption you see both when you look in the mirror and also through your window onto the world. For the Christian, there is only one solution: Jesus. In his 33 years on earth, He endured all things without turning to sin to escape the frustration. How might we better emulate Him? By thinking on Him, loving Him, knowing Him and crying out to Him for help.
Solutions... that don't really work
In our society, I think we are very much afraid of pain – it is uncomfortable, like an ill-fitting pair of underpants that ride up your backside all the day long. And not just physical pain, of course, but relational, emotional, spiritual pain; fear of being alone, fear of not meeting expectations, fear of being left behind, fear of being unloved and unlovable or not seen and heard and admired. Fear of dying.
So rather than process the pain, deal appropriately with the uncertainties, or seek out sources of solace that are deep and penetrating to the soul, we try to run away, push others away, control circumstances or assert ourselves; we might attempt to morph into something we believe will be immune to pain, thinking that if we just emulate those who appear to have it right, everything will be okay.
A lot of pain can hide beneath new clothes, perfect hair, a smile. Our hearts can betray us and send us chasing after things we think will ameliorate our innate desires for comfort, inclusion, recognition. "I want this, I need this" we say, and then we go astray.
Perhaps this is why we are so heavily medicated, with illicit and prescription drugs and wine and beer, always looking for some distraction (internets! television! food! shopping! pokies! the latest cinematic attraction!) to fill the spaces and numb the pains that are simply par for the course in a "fallen and broken world" populated by imperfect people, as the Christian discourse goes.
Really, we cannot blame each other for this state of affairs, the longing for a balm to soothe the sores. While accepting accountability for our own actions and their repercussions, who but the ardent masochist enjoys pain, feeling depressed, unable to breathe? Small comforts, kept in their place, can ease the extremities; they can give us time to stop, rest, take in a different scene, widen the scope for long enough to cope.
But when the objects of our affections and desires become solely externalities, dependent on conditions outside and not within, placating some deficiency or appeasing the conscience rather than consumed or experienced for sheer delight in the one who has bestowed them on us, the effects can be displacement, agony, isolation, desolation, depravity. Oh, the gravity of stumbling unknowingly, stupidly, desperately into the perilous state of being!
Casting off the shackles
"Bound as I was, not with another man's irons, but by my own iron will.
My will the enemy held, and thence had made a chain for me, and bound me.
For of a froward will was lust made; and a lust served, became custom;
and custom not registered became necessity. By which links, as it were,
joined together (whence I called it a chain) a hard bondage held me enthralled."
- Augustine, Confessions, Book 8
As the girl in our story grew to know the story of Christ, taking it on as her own, she saw herself in its chapters. She took comfort in soothing words such as "Lord, you make the path smooth for good people". But it seemed as if every day she would come across a new instruction that pointed to some part of herself – some fault – that wasn't up to scratch, or a new itch inside herself she had to attend to.
How to reconcile that?
God wasn't overbearing about it. In fact, He was gentle, "...gentle with those who do not understand and who are doing wrong things", even while she punished herself, which was quite ridiculous given that the atonement negates the need for acts of self-flagellation. But it became quite clear that if she was to really experience the fullness of life she believed she was entitled to, she must cast off the shackles and "walk in the light".
One by one, things had to go. This included her pride in everything she had built up, in an effort to erect up a big wall between herself and the world, to keep her from falling over the edge (though she realises the world is not flat but round and gravity pulls us down). The material things went first – a detestable loathing for clothing emerged (as if she were entitled to amass such things!), and then magazines (you can read about that here) and niggling habits and tendencies that disrupt the "God flow" of things.
Spending a Sabbath day with God became the highlight of her week. The recommendation that one might "lead a quiet and peaceful life with all reverence toward God and with proper conduct" spoke to her particularly. It's not a very "quiet and peaceful" thing to be involved in the negotiation of public discourse in the online world, is it? That I am still negotiating. But from the English politician William Wilberforce, whose most beloved book was the Bible, a thought:
My grand objection to the religious system still held by many who declare themselves orthodox Churchmen. . . is, that it tends to render Christianity so much a system of prohibitions rather than of privilege and hopes, and thus the injunction to rejoice, so strongly enforced in the New Testament, is practically neglected, and Religion is made to wear a forbidding and gloomy air and not one of peace and hope and joy.
But while she (I, whatever, you know who the girl is) felt lost and lonely and isolated as she put her house in order, she couldn't help but wonder, 'What am I missing?'. Thankfully, what was given in replacement was much greater than anything she could have imagined; liberation from the world's oppression; liberation from self-obsession; a small and loving community... and God himself, whose mercies are great and make up for all inadequacies and missing-out-ness.
Building with bricks, not sticks or straw
"The redemption of Jesus has no other aim than that God should again become everything in our heart and life," writes Andrew Murray in Experiencing the Holy Spirit. "Christ Himself has shown in His life what it means to be nothing and to allow God to be everything. As He once lived on the earth, so does He still live in the hearts of His people. According to the measure in which they receive the truth that God is all will the fullness of the blessing be able to find its way into their life."
From the point and time we are prepared to receive the gift of grace, strivings cease and the spirit of God is allowed to take his course. But for some of us there is a great degree of "working out" to be done before our deficiencies can be reconciled. For my own part, it was a process of elimination, supplication and submission. Of breaking off chains through humble submission... but only after great and painful defeat.
For author Anne Lamott, it meant, "mess, failure, mistakes, disappointments, and extensive reading; limbo, indecision, setbacks, addiction, public embarrassment, and endless conversations with my best women friends; the loss of people without whom I could not live, the loss of pets that left me reeling, dizzying betrayals but much greater loyalty, and overall, choosing as my motto William Blake's line that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love."
How to re-educate yourself when it is almost as if everything you had learnt about how to be a person in the world was wrong? The struggle goes on as you are aroused by grace and gratitude to become the self that God decided on when He thought you up. Who am I? Who am I becoming? What place in the world for a girl such as this who spends her days Bible reading? What a waste! Get on with it... do something! Do at least one thing today!
At such a state of crisis, Lamott simply chose to stop. "I had to stop living unconsciously as if I had all the time in the world. So one day I did stop. I began consciously to break the rules I learned in childhood: I wasted more time, as a radical act. I stared off into space more, into the middle distance, like a cat... Every single day I try to figure out something I no longer agree to do. You get to change your mind – your parents may have accidentally forgotten to mention this to you."
Like Paul's description of the conflict within us in Romans 7 ("I do not understand what I do; for I don't do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate"), both the desire to do good and our propensity to do the exact opposite, Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" rings true to the common struggle with self:
"I'm going to make a change, for once in my life; it's gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right... A willow deeply scarred, somebody's broken heart, and a washed-out dream; they follow the pattern of the wind, ya' see, cause they got no place to be. That's why I'm starting with me."
If we struggle alone, thinking we know the way, we find futility. God will simply not let us go until we are done doing business with Him. Until we have settled our accounts. And, one by one, all the sins rise to the surface to be negotiated, repented for, negated. We do not escape unscathed. Part of the cross we bear, as we journey on, are the mistakes we have made. But we must go on nonetheless less we regress. And we do it in light of Jesus' atoning sacrifice.
In his 33 years on earth, Jesus learnt all about pain: betrayal, persecution, physical distress. If you have been through a time of desolation, wandering seemingly aimlessly about the world in search for home, then perhaps you can relate? It is comforting to see history portrayed this way, and also to see God faithfully answer prayer. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer," wrote King David.
We cannot go on forever stumbling over our transgressions, our weaknesses, our faults, our past mistakes. A period of self-reflection, contemplation and repentance is enough – and the length of that time, and how it takes shape, is particular and peculiar to each one of us. My journey, with all its horrors and highs, cannot be replicated much the same as I might try to replicate Joan of Arc's (and fail). Whatever the journey, you can guarantee it has been orchestrated by God.
It is not my place to rob anyone else from enjoying who they are, and the possibility of who they might be, with God, so I am particularly aware at this point in time of being detailed in design about what one ought to do. All I can do, I now resolve, is to say, "How wonderful to find yourself on the way! A companion to travel with on the journey is a lovely thing when the fog gets so thick you cannot see past your own toes."
I know now that in this world – this confusing, falling-apart, messy world in which we live – Jesus is the only true hope we have, as He illuminates, brightens and gives meaning to everything, but for many people he is an intangible figure of history. I have seen that the hope He invests in those who choose to believe (and a choice it is, every single day, to believe) can transpire in the most wonderful things... it makes the awfulness turn into beauty.
But it's not all about you
A few weeks ago, in a Bible study group, the question was asked, 'How do we become more selfless?'. While for some it comes as easily as riding a bike, for most of us it's a process... if it is to be genuine and not an attempt to placate some inner discontent. It requires the kind of humility that has its sights set on a higher purpose than gratification of the heart's desires. It means death to self and aliveness to Christ.
The truly selfless do not look like the walking dead; they spring out of bed and wrestle with the world in the hope that they might make it, in some way, better – if not 'out there', then in the home. They are alive with a spirit that is infectious; gentle and humble though it may be, they rest in a certainty that allows them to simply be; no restless need to be seen nor heard except in the case of seeking justice for the widow, the child, the poor. Jesus, we must remember, came with both peace and a sword.
These people, who are worthy of emulating, do not allow themselves to get caught up in past hurts and pains: they are dealt with and are viewed upon as gain. Personal suffering creates empathy and the ability to see how our actions affect others, for better or for worse. While taming the worst, one by one the very life of Christ within is working out the best: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The preacher John Piper posits that there are three types of prideful people: self-preoccupied (the centre of his attention, self-hating, lacking empathy); self-infatuated (likes being the centre of his own attention and others'); and self-exalting (active efforts to display his qualities in order to induce praise). Piper suggests but one solution to this prideful conundrum:
The biblical, Christian alternative to pride is not natural humility, but faith in Jesus Christ, the creator and redeemer of the universe. The Christian alternative to self-preoccupation and self-infatuation and self-exaltation is Christ-preoccupation and Christ-infatuation and Christ-exaltation. The Christian alternative to thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to is faith—that is, turning away from self to Christ. Thinking much and thinking highly of Christ.
The more we self-forget, the freer we are to operate in the world without harming others; to do good without any expectation of reward or recognition, except the faithful nod from God.
Whose standards are you living up to?
In the world, particularly in the world of girls, bodies and food and drink and clothes and being a shiny, bright success story (relative to the other shiny, bright success stories) takes on more precedence than need be, which has the undesirable effect of causing us to stop and look at our navel and lament that it is not that lovely.
We do get easily distracted from what's important in life. For some of us, this can turn into an all-consuming idolatry that puts the focus back on ourselves to negotiate a state of being that is almost entirely dependent on comparisons and transient, ephemeral notions, whether positive or negative.
The problem is that by this standard we can never attain the required level of perfection, or coolness or fashionability, as they are constantly changing according to the fashions of the day and social mores and whoever has the next bright idea or is the next big thing.
But anything – from football, to going to the gym, to watching television, to the newspapers, to your dogs, to alcohol, to work – can become an all-consuming fixation that is not commensurate with good living if not put in its rightful place in the pecking order of your life.
But who is informing our priorities? Who is creating boundaries? Can the will resist and desist against a culture that tries to get its way?
For a time, you may need to be very guarded about the influences you're prepared to let in, particularly those that you know play on your vulnerabilities, until you become strong and sure enough to go into the world and wrestle with it without growing weary. Respite is necessary for our humanity; Jesus knew it, which is why He took time alone to pray. He was also sure and certain in His purpose.
Even then, we still get in the way, and the world will coo and tempt us into conforming once again to its ways. So we must endeavour to remain steadfast in pursuit of truth; everything that is lovely and good and true, while remembering that we are all but a breath away from making a mistake and, though we grow stronger it's but by the grace of God we go...
Fixing your eyes on Christ
A few months ago, I sat on a plane and cried... wept so many tears my husband's shoulder was sodden. I cried as I watched Queen Latifah sit at her piano singing, "Fix me, Jesus, fix me." They were tears of joy, the welling up of emotions of gratefulness for the restoration that had taken place in my life. "Fix me, for a higher ground, fix me, Jesus, fix me," she sang.
Joni Eareckson Tada, who who at 17 was injured in a diving accident, leaving her a quadriplegic, writes, "God will atone for every single one of your tears. First, the reason behind your suffering will be made plain as God reveals something so glorious in his purpose that it will completely suffice for all your hurt. Next, as God dries your tears, it will showcase the intimate, sweet affection of God toward you personally – much more so than if you never cried!"
Suffering helps us to a higher ground, a higher love and to make practical use of our life on this earth.
I longed to speak to the young man I watched running up the hill – to say to him, 'I know how that feels; to be embarking on that journey'. It is wonderful to come over a hill – an incline so impossibly high that you feel you might never see the horizon again – but it is also very easy to forget that others are still on their way up, or yet to even begin, and that your dependency every single day is just the same as it was when you were in the depths of despair right back there at the beginning.
And, on that note, a hymn...
This is a very extended, verbose and somewhat disorderly and repetitive version of a much simpler sermon delivered at Liberty Baptist Church, Mount Tamborine, on Sunday 22 July, 2012.
Girl With a Satchel