Being faithful is a messy thing indeed

I originally wrote this post three months after having my son, and two and a half years before coming to Christ.

In that time, my life has changed dramatically. I had this post hidden for awhile; but for the sake of seeing the change of perspective that comes with time and growth, I thought it would be worth sharing it again.

I was told today that the things I’ve used for years in building the groundwork for my identity are misguided. These purposes I’ve had and decisions I’ve made are attempts to create a kingdom for myself, to raise up the value of my own doings, to prioritize the things that I deem most important in my life, and to ignore the road that was given and planned for me from the time before I was born; that is, unless I am doing each and every one of those things, in a way that reflects a life -that we as humans can comprehend- the God of the bible hoped for us to lead.

I may be paraphrasing to a degree, but essentially in summary of what I was told, if what I’m doing, thinking, saying, (fill in the verb), doesn’t fit into the box of my life that directs me to where I’m going and doing, than it needs to be taken out of the box promptly. The difficult part of this easy-to-say task is that the box needs to contain things that 100% reflect Jesus and the infinitely (hard to comprehend) goodness that he is. The problem is, I’m 100% human. I’m 100% a mess, One-hundo P stressed, 10/10 anxiety ridden, check all the boxes worried about the idea of not being in complete control of my life and the things that surround me. Fear of giving up control and putting forth that amount of faith, to something that supposedly created me, is a constant and overwhelming struggle. The thought of being able to lead my life in the same ways I already am, but with the knowledge that if I’m doing it in a way that reflects infinite love, compassion, gentleness (oh, the fruits of the spirit), kindness, goodness, self-control, etc, if I’m doing it in that way, then no matter how often I might make a mistake, no matter how difficult life will get, it should in theory, all work out for me just fine on a God-level scale.

The problem is, when I think I’ve got it. When a small task needs to be done and I think to myself, I don’t need God’s help with this one. When Rachel and I realize that her time on maternity leave is coming to an end because of bills that are stacking up, and I think to myself, “if only we had planned for a kid”, or “if I work 20 more hours a week, maybe she won’t have to get a job”, or thinking about quitting my life of coffee shop work even though I really enjoy it. I generally always think I’ll be able to take care of whatever the issue is, because I have to, because I can’t rely on anyone else to see how pressing these things are, because I’m the man of the house (I don’t actually want that 50-year-old stereotypical role, the cards have just fallen in that directions at this point in our lives), because sometimes -more often that not- I don’t think God is all that interested in helping me out, because I am a screw up; in my eyes at least.

My dilemma becomes most prevalent in these moments. I am offered a promise of many things that seem unobtainable in this earthly world we live in. The promise offers me many things: peace, being allowed to relinquish all my fears of failure, not needing to be afraid of embarrassing myself, not needing to hold myself accountable for other peoples actions. This promise also allows me to not need concern myself with more global issues: climate change, “concentration camps”, questions about the LGBTQ community in relation to the church denomination I grew up in, the lies of the political realm, and anything that might create anxiety for me in my life.

The promise is hard for me to grasp. After talking to some young adults that heard the same message, their viewpoint was so matter-of-factly about the idea of giving your concerns up, that it made me want to laugh out of frustration. How can I just stop worrying and know that if I keep Jesus in my mind, in my heart, and at the forefront of why I do every action I do in a day, my life will work out in the way my creator has destined for it to? Is there still free will if I’m giving my will up to him?

Thinking about these questions always brings to mind the parable of the three men and their talents (money). I always feel like I’m the 2nd man; in that I’m too afraid to do anything with the gift I am given. I’m too afraid of doing the wrong thing and therefore I do no thing. I simply go through each day trying to maintain a neutral force when I know full well that my mind and my heart do feel strongly about things, they try to urge me into action and I never act.

That could just be my 8.5/10 level anxiety speaking though. I’m just not sure. Really, I’m never sure. Fake it until you make it, right?

Peace? My mind and my heart toy with the idea. They roll it around in their hands. They listen to the word. The think about the feathery light feeling that accompanies the word. The lungs-full weightlessness. The tingling in the arms and back of the neck. The thought of being able to relinquish control to a greater power, to be comforted by the fact that the right path for this life could only be found by doing such a thing, it makes me laugh. The laugh is one of those that have a lot of skepticism, and a lot of hurt, and a lot of doubt behind it.

Surely it’s not that easy.

What if, though? I’m not normally one to cherry-pick bible verses, but there are a couple that present and offer the promise I’ve been talking about:

‚ÄúTherefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Not that completely resigning yourself to the fact that there is a higher power taking care of you is easy, far from it in fact. It is just that the next step seems to be even more difficult, for me at least.

The part about making sure everything you do fits into the 100% about Jesus box, surely that is impossible. Surely no one but Jesus himself has been able to do that. Who knows, you know?

All I know is that when I begin to open my heart to the idea of infinite goodness being able to fill it, to the idea of not obsessing over the things I truly can’t control or affect, and to the idea that I am enough, I start to feel giddy. The back of my neck starts to loosen. I want to go tell people how I’m feeling so maybe they can see how this release is affecting me. I want to share it. I want to share it so bad that when I feel like I’m not doing that, I begin to grow sad. I begin to feel like I failed with bringing this feeling to other people. I start to feel like I did all at the very beginning of this.

And this is when I feel like I’m back at square one. I do wish there was a mental checkpoint where if I lose the progress I had, I could start over, but there’s not. Feeling like I have to trudge through all of that uncertainty and confusion again sounds like too much, and it takes weeks or months until another talk or act convinces me to try again. To try taking everything out of my box that isn’t 100% Jesus and replacing it with him, feels like an overwhelmingly large task. At the same time though, it feels like the right task. The glimpses of it I’ve seen and felt feel more worth it than a number of things I’ve put vastly larger amounts of time and energy into. I want to think I’m ready for it to, I want to think I’m ready to accept something that will ease the difficulty, and grow the joy of my life, if I just accept it.

This whole idea reminds me largely of C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. It has been quite a few years since I read this novel, but it left a larger and longer-lasting impression on me than many other books I’ve read in my life. The gist of the novel is that we are always able to be in union with the Lord, but, we have to be willing to accept that our wills are based on earthly desires. We must be able to let go and move beyond those earthly desires to be in a heavenly place with him, on earth or in heaven.

It is an odd situation I find myself in, being able to move back and forth between these ideas so quickly. It feels like a fractured duality. On one side: I’m frustrated with religion, I refuse to give up the idea that I can handle everything on my own, I question whether or not there is truly a God, and a Devil, a heaven, and a hell, I question the purpose of life as well. Then I feel like I’m waking up, and I suddenly know that there is a God, love is the answer to many of life’s problems and grand questions (not 42), religion is flawed in many ways but a good vehicle for the belief and worship of God, and I can fully give up my life in the pursuit of him, and everything will be more than okay, life will begin to be more as it should, more as it was created to be.

I just have to commit and make that choice, and I hope that I decide soon, because, in reality, I am tired of trying to force my way through the world. It’s exhausting, and if there’s a better way of going about it, I’m all in.

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My phone died today.

Well, that might be an exaggeration. I guess I should say that the ability to use all the normal functions on my phone died today.

I’ve been having issues over the last few months with sending group texts; couple this with having a charging port that hardly works, and a broken speaker that leads me to not being able to hear most notifications that my phone would normally alert me to, my phone is really on the decline. I can live with the charging port and the unseen notifications, that’s fine.

Sometimes the messages go through. Sometimes the messages take hours to send. Rarely they’ll go through all together. I figured out a trick with the long group texts where if I screenshot the message, then send it as a picture it will go through. Regardless of what does and doesn’t work, and needless to say, this is not how it should be happening. What’s causing me far more annoyance and difficulty is the messages not sending. Over the last few days, the problem has somehow managed to get worse. The messages now look like they successfully sent on my end (says the checkmark next to the text), but the recipient will never have gotten them, and this is only on some of the messages that I send. If my phone is going to have a problem, the least it could do is to be consistent. This whole problem is frustrating, awkward, and inconvenient.

I know, there’s many solutions to this problem: buy a new phone, seek tech support, or even just call people individually. I’m stubborn though and refuse to spend money on a new phone unless it’s shooting sparks out of the cracked screen (forgot to mention that).

I even tried a factory reset of my phone today in hopes that it might resolve all the issues. Unfortunately I don’t think it really did anything other than create the annoyance of having to resubmit all my passwords and login credentials to apps or websites I frequent.

The next step would be to reset my sim card information…blah…technical details…blah blah….boring things….what’s the point of all this moaning about how hard my life is because of my phone’s slow descent into madness?

I would agree with someone that may be reading this and thinking, why should I care? Except I don’t agree, because to me this feels like a very real problem with potentially bad side effects. For some reason, I feel wildly isolated and disconnected from not only the people I’ve sent these (unread?) messages to, but also in some way disconnected from the whole world. Even though I still have access to virtually everything I did before this malfunction, for some reason the lack of 100% functionality makes me feel this way.

Why is my phone causing me so much uneasiness and discontentment? Why, as someone that has had a spiritual experience with God, do I not feel these same kinds of things when I’m not talking to or sourcing myself from God? Should I feel guilty because I don’t feel the same way? Should I feel unsure of how strong my faith actually is? I don’t think the answer to either of those questions is yes. I think it actually presents an opportunity for growing in my faith, and reprioritizing what is actually important to me in my daily life.

God is not flashy. God is not noisy. God doesn’t send push notifications. God is not a cell phone. God’s far more.

God desires relationship and intimacy with us, but is also respectful of our free will and allows us the time and power of choice to come into that relationship of our on volition. Similar in many ways to the what I think of when I think of a parental relationship: with my four year old I’ve learned that no matter how hard I push, he just doesn’t share the same interests in hobbies and entertainment that I do. I don’t push it onto him, but I do harbor a hope that he’ll eventually take the same enjoyment that it from I do. God sits and waits for us, and hopes we’ll join him.

God is up at 6:00 am hoping we’ll join him for early morning coffee; instead we often choose to sleep in. God is in our passenger seat as we speed to work because we took too long to throw our lunch into a container; instead we choose to continue speeding as we tightly grip the steering wheel we’re hunched over. God walks in tandem with us as we mow the lawn, and instead of talking to him over the din of blades cutting grass, we turn up the sound of our newest podcast, to drown out the noise of the mower and God’s voice.

The possibility for connection is always right there and yet I choose to remain unaware. And because of the times I choose to remain unaware in those small moments, the moments slowly amount to a stagnation of relationship and the drying up of hearing his voice.

How do I develop and fear losing my ability to talk with God and have relationship with him, in the same way that I fear and am caused anxiety by a piece of technology not working correctly? Or how can I learn from the ways my daily life flows and functions around my phone?

My first thought is to remember the good times in talking to God, just like I remember how when I initially got my phone the ease and consistency of it working as it was supposed to.

A recurring theme in the book of Genesis is forgetfulness. God and the ways he has been faithful to his children and how he has come through for them in their times of hardship. For example, after the flood, Noah plants a vineyard and eventually finds himself in a drunken stupor. In my opinion, he most likely did this to avoid the trauma of the events of the flood. He chose the easy way out, the comforting way out, rather than maintain relationship with the God that warned him of, and protected him throughout the course of the flood. Regardless of whether or not the flood story is a word for word account, or some creative liberties were taken to create a more interested parable, the theme of remain close to what has been good and faithful to you rather than trying to make your own way, or believing that what has been good will not continue to be good is a goal to remember. When we enter into darkness, we must remember that our vision still works, and that the sun (in this case, hope) will always rise again. If you keep the conversation flowing between you and God, you’re now walking through the darkness with a flaming torch that provides you light, heat, and the ability to create fire. You now have a source of protection and peace until the sun does rise again; in fact, the source of protection and peace. If you stop talking to God during the darkness, your fire goes out.

My second thought is recognizing and reacting to the symptoms of not talking to God.

My life is significantly more difficult when I begin following my own path and believing my choices are the best ones for my life. It’s as though I’m malfunctioning, responding slowly, freezing up, and I need a reset; just like a cell phone when it needs to be updated or it’s becoming obsolete. When I reset though, thankfully I have a stored backup (just like my phone). My backup comes in the form of something I heard referred to as “pillars of faith” that is referred to in the old testament: in the book of Joshua, God tasks Joshua with having the twelve tribes of Israel collect twelve stones to acts as stones of remembrance for the future children of the tribes; when the future sons and daughters would ask what they meant, they would be able to be reminded of when the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground, just as God had created a path through the Red Sea for the Israelites in captivity. When I find myself in situations of needing to remember, to “back-up” or “reset” my life, I remember my own stones of remembrance, or pillars of faith as I often call them. I use these to “restore” my own settings and be returned to my fully and correctly functioning state without any bugs or errors.

My third thought is how I should respond to God in a more devoted and reliant manner than my phone.

When Apple releases a big firmware update, or even a new phone model iteration, people flock to the stores en masse. People anticipate, review and immerse themselves in the newness of the things; you could even say people rejoice over it. As technology has gained more and more ground over the years and planned obsolescence has become an increasingly used technique of these companies, so few people are happy with their old phone or software. Even though there is usually some kind of sacrifice to acquire this newness, be it the monetary sacrifice of a purchase, or the sacrifice of time in waiting for a download, people still clamor to this new thing because it’s different, better, and more capable. Are people (and I myself) really so pacified and shallow that the desire for “better” stops at wanting a better phone, a better car, a better home? Why should I not desire to upgrade myself as a person? I’m not talking about Neuralink (big pass on that), I’m talking about who I am supposed to be as a person, the identity I was created for but maybe haven’t embraced yet, or have only embraced in part. If I were to seek this upgrade, in the same way that our old phone or firmware get replaced by the newer, cooler, better thing, we should replace our old selves with new. We must be careful though not to try and craft our own firmware version, or some kind of Frankenstein of old phone parts into what may look like a cell phone. There is a trustworthy developer that we should go to, that knows know what they’re doing. If we try to attempt our own upgrades, we may just end up creating more bugs that are too numerous to crush and to resilient to kill. Plus, the manufacturer has top of the line updates and security features that will keep us up to date if we just remember to install them.

The last reason that I can think of (for this list at least) is how in the same way our phones charge to have any functionality at all, we must also charge up to be able to have functionality and serve in the same ways we’re meant to. I’m not referring to the process of sleep, or consuming calories for energy, or even a quick espresso to make myself believe that I’m less tired, I’m referring to installing a whole new battery, a secondary battery that allows more power draw and capabilities than you ever had with just one. Abiding, dwelling, being present with, meditating, or my personal favorite “walking with God in the cool of the evening”, these are all ways of filling our spiritual and most powerful battery. I’ve seen it daily in my life when I am purposefully present with God that my day goes better. The same can be said for my wife and those in my life that follow Christ. The best thing about him is that he is a perpetual motion machine, he is infinite energy, just waiting for us to plug in so that we never have to be charged back up. We don’t receive the energy if we’re not plugged in though, and that’s why spending time with him in his word, in conversation, and in walking out his ways is so important. That’s what charges us with his love and truth.

Goodbye.

Seed of Trust

Many ask.

Who is Christ? The blessed one that will come thrice, his disciples respond.

Who is Emmanuel? The one that comforts and communicates with those that are sure they’re abandoned, says the now not alone.

Who is Jesus? He is the way and the map, and the bridge to our forgotten home, say those that now lay down the burden of saving their name, their life, and their entire own kind.

Who are you Christ?

I am your teacher, I am your path, I am the answer to “what’s the point?”.

Who are you Emmanuel?

I am the voice that whispers in your heart, I am the tugging of your soul. I am the feeling of lightness, of kindness, of togetherness in separation.

Who are you Jesus?

I am your friend, I am your father, I am the sacrifice of love that gave you back and joined you to the king, endowed you and surrounded you with the mystery of glorious pneuma.

You are Christ. You are Salvation, a freedom beautiful beyond comprehension in the death of myself, you are the end of humanity’s endless search, the rest at the dusk of a forever day.

You are Emmanuel. You are with us, uniting and soothing division and derision. You are the peacekeeper, the host of the gathering of all at your side. You are the sweet air cooling our lungs, as the day breaks through the glistening dew on the lily’s pearl petals.

You are Jesus. The savior of man. The last step in the master plan. You are the one that lifted my veil, that scraped off of my eyes those sickening scales. You are the one that convinced me finally of my value; the one that awoke a realization, that my speck of the cosmos did have a purpose. The one that said, I love you, you truly deserve it. The first one to speak, that I undoubtedly believed.

Many no longer ask, because instead they now see.