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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Aspen

“Child, do you see the trees?”

“Which ones, Oldheart?” They asked the memory-filled soul.

“They are lofty, soaring, colored like bones below and sunrise above. Do you see them?”

“I do now. I like them.”

“Ah, from afar, yes, I admire them also. Let us approach and perceive their stories; that is, if you’re content with a gently swaying walk on the path that invites us?”

“Why, certainly, Oldheart. You always do show me the most wondrous things; the hidden away things, like dusty story books lost to the hunger of a basement. No difficult walk will stop me.”

So they walked, hand in hand. The path rising, then falling, the rocks protruding like animal traps in the dried mud; they saw false paths that led to thistles and brambles, but Oldheart, like a compass, knew the true path and followed it like a river in a gorge.

The path swept them along like a falling leaf carried by the wind. Gently rocking their bodies into a sway that led them down, down, down to the land of long bones and high foliage.

They walked to the base of a tree, looking at it like a child looks at a parent.

Oldheart raised a mature and certain hand and rested it on the tree’s most featureless, ash colored bark.

“Did you know they can see us?”

“The trees?” The child uncertainly cocked their head.

“Yes.” Oldheart reverently placed the pad of their first finger on the black scar that clung to the elongated trunk like a cancer, or a priceless painting.

“How can they see us, Oldheart?” The child asked; this time though, with a note of fear playing like a muted undercurrent.

“Their eyes. They’re grown. They do not see at first, as babies. As time flows, thus do their experiences in this world. See, and feel.” Oldheart grabbed the child’s hand abruptly, not with anger, but like a guide on a dangerous path might, with confidence and assurance.

The child wondered as their fingers were kneaded by the lid of the eye on the tree. Oldheart pulled the child’s hand and placed it in the dark eclipse that defined the center of the eye. The child knew, at least, hoped they knew, that the eye would remain as it was; but the uncanny feeling nestled behind their sternum whispered otherwise; the feeling said “I will swallow you up. I will consume you. I will keep you here forever if you so desire.

Oldheart continued placing the child’s hand on different protrusions and nodules of deep black.

“Are the eyes speaking to you, child?”

“They are. But when I try to speak back they remain quiet. Why?”

“Because they do not converse. They remain scars and mementos. See, the limbs scattered around us like ancestor’s skeletons. Limbs that after having fallen off, leave the eye to look out, to be witnessed, to be learned from. Those limbs have lived their lives, and now go to the ground to return. They are a testament to those that might listen. A trophy of storms weathered, fires recovered from, and animals protected and nurtured. They are remnants of past lives. Lives that are finished, but still remembered.

“Will I become a branch like that, Oldheart?”

“No. Not until you are ready for the Earth to reclaim you.”

Oldheart let go of the child’s arm and set a hand atop the child’s head.

“Do not forget to look up. Down here, with us, is the past. Up, reaching into the sky, that’s the present and the future and the unknown. You are those flittering colors reaching out from the ends of the branches, and you will always be them, even as the ground below grows further and further away. The eye remembers, and the branch made it’s decision long ago, but you aren’t down here with those. You are up there, in the company of the birds, and caressing the clouds. Your present is always rising above the past. But the memories, the scars, are still a part of you.”

“I see.” The child said, and Oldheart knew they did.

“I am pleased. Remember, never forget what part of this tree you are; because if you do, the eyes will consume you.”

The child shivered. Did I tell Oldheart what the tree made me feel? How did Oldheart know?

The child asked what happened if you forgot. Oldheart made a sweeping motion with his hand toward the sky: “It all becomes black. It all becomes memory, even the leaves. For a new growth to break out of that shell of memory requires all the trees to rustle their leaves in unison. It is a difficult task, even for trees.”

The child nodded pensively.

“Are you ready to return?” Oldheart asked.

“Yes. Please. Thank you.” The child put their smooth, soft hand into Oldheart’s wrinkled and toughened grasp and they turned in a semi-circle. With their backs to the trees, they began to walk back up. Up, up, up, carried like a leaf by the wind, back to their own.

You’re always creating

Have you ever caught yourself thinking: “I’ve never done anything with my life. I’ve never made anything, or changed anyone, or done something with myself.” Well, I believe that’s false. I believe you and I have both created more things than we can possibly imagine.

Look at this picture. My two year old son drew it. While it may not be a Van Gogh, -in this universe- it’s a creation. He has made something out if nothing. The colors own the space where nothing was before; they weren’t put there of their own will. Every centimeter he carried that marker he was creating a new picture, it was changing and becoming something new, millisecond by millisecond. He made that and he created something. Because of the joy I’m sure that the creating brought him, he was creating happiness in the world. It was his own, sure, but it was new and previously untapped potential happiness. When I saw the picture, it brought me joy. He probably would’ve liked me to see it and to praise him for it, or he may not have thought that at all. Regardless of his intentions he had affected my life in a positive way.

If you ever catch yourself thinking “I’ve never made anything, or changed anyone, or done anything to matter.” Take a step back and think about all the imperceptible things we help happen. Think of the butterfly effect, but in a more tangible realistic way. Imagine how your actions, (though you may not have known at the time) helped better someone’s day, or even maybe save their life.

Just because you can’t see the thing you created doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because it isn’t affecting your life, doesn’t mean it isn’t positively affecting someone else’s.

I’m sure the same could be said for negative things and how imperceptible side-effects of those hurtful actions may not have harmed the actor, but did harm the person two doors down from them. We could talk about that, but this time, let’s focus on the good. Let’s enjoy the tangle of colorful joy that we let flow from our actions onto the paper of our lives, and from there onto the table under the paper that makes up the lives around us. Let’s dump out all the markers and get to work.