I have refrained from making things too personal in the short life of this blog, because it has been my belief that I am beside the point. Making things personal, to my experience, does very little other than to muddy the waters and make the conversation about me and my own particular set of eccentricities. There are bigger issues to resolve, contrary to the trends we see, than my opinion on every single thing.
I am taking a side step in that thought process because God has been forming me this year. I don’t want to stay in this stream too long, but I think some of the things that have come into my life may genuinely provide clarity and maybe even resolution for people in similar circumstances. I’ve (so far) come up with a series of topics that I think will address the growth of the year without too much making it about me, more making it about Christ’s shaping of me. This topics are, “before,” “the hardening of hearts,” “the finding of voices,” “(something about the importance of learning),” “the increased awareness of other,” “Making peace (peace breaks out),” “forgiveness,” and “the awakening of prayer.” I am not sure that list (including the one in parentheses that is unclear) will remain unchanged, and since I’m still working through this cycle, I certainly hope there will be more added.
To date, this “cycle of growth” has been happening over the course of a little over a year. It was around April 2015 that God started doing what he is still doing, so I am still processing a lot of it. Several revelations that I think could be beneficial in their sharing have already materialized.
To describe myself before this point is difficult. A lot of the reasons for that are the things that have been moving in the process, but I think the closest I can get is this statement: I had a lazy faith. I was doing things which were good, I was participating in what I thought was making God’s kingdom great. Looking back, I can see the arrogance in that. What I was really doing was inflating my own ego by believing that God needed me at all.
Without getting into spoilers, I mention what God has not been changing. First is my personality. This is something that really does make me who I am, it’s something I can’t help. While I have become far more conscious of the possible side effects of my personality, God has allowed me to remain a very irritating person. Also, he has not changed my financial situation. This will not be a blog about praying for grace and receiving a million dollars. It’s gone the opposite way, in fact. It’s all happened in the context of no significant disruptions in that area too. More about that later.
I’m not sure where the locus of this journey was. Where it started, though, is not half as important as the purpose it has served. Old Me would probably think that God was equipping me for bigger things, that he was preparing me for some monumental work. Current Me knows this: none of that has been the result.
I don’t want to skip too far into the results, because slow simmering has become one of the things I’m learning.
Old Me was all about the self-help, nibbling approach to the Bible. If I could open up God’s word and find something that sounded good, that felt right to me. I would be satisfied. A few days later, if I thought of it, I might look again. Most of those instances happened in preparation for small group studies I was helping to lead. There was almost no drive to commune with God in his reality. I, of course, did not know this at the time. I thought listening to Christian music and thinking about challenging things were equal to Bible study. That was a patently wrong thought.
My attitude toward other people was far more complicated than it is now. Complicated because I had to figure out who was right and wrong, who to dismiss and who to celebrate. I made a statement several times that I deeply regret now: “I only want to hang out with people who enrich me.” That statement was born out of a genuine desire to grow. Unfortunately, it was in its entirety a desire to grow myself.
I have been in church all my life, and the experience had brought me to a point where I saw churches as competitors. Whoever has the best marketing, the best music, the best building, the most vibrant sermons becomes my choice. The one that won’t bore people to tears wins my membership. I admit, I’ve made decisions about where to worship based on those criteria. I was comfortable with it, even proud of the amount I knew about each denomination. Within that, I had also formed opinions about who was right and wrong.
I grew easily tired of people who required too much effort. I would have a dialogue in my head of snippy things to say about them. I served them to feel good about serving them. I wanted to check boxes, do the instructions that God dictated. Helping people is not, of course, an entirely useless endeavor. Like Paul leaving the life of a Pharisee to enter into something new he did not fully understand, my center point needed to be refocused.
A few things happened before this year that play into the general picture. My daughter was born, which created a framework for me to understand gentleness (something which does not come natural to me) and unconditional love. While she has not played directly into the cycle I’m about to address, it does give a sense of perspective.
Even farther back than that, I married my wife. To say she makes me a better man is too broad for this topic; for the purposes of this cycle, it is more appropriate to say that she got to many of these places before I did. She is more compassionate than I am. She has long been a more enthusiastic reader. Her life in Bible study still runs rings around mine. With her example before me, it was easy to see a lot of things that needed tightening up because she was already doing them. She is also far quieter than I am, so many times I run by (or over) her in my pursuits.
Finally, the thing farthest away which plays into the picture was my call to ministry. As a teenager, I felt I would be in professional ministry. I was fired from my first full-time job as such. I’m not in a church staff position now and I have now intention to ever be in one again. I have never left the fellowship with the body, never dropped out. I have planned to, but it seems God always comes through to keep me close. I have never denied God, but I have had many, many questions. Many troughs and valleys. God has seen fit to overcome my tendency to act in the moment, and has given me perspective, at times, to see what it was all worth. This is one of those times.