Sunday, June 25, 2017

Faith & Light in the Dark

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Well hello hello!

Gosh, it's been a minute (okay, a few weeks) since I've been here. I usually like to write and post here more often, but life's been a learning curve the past few months, and I've found myself a bit busy. I'm learning (and re-learning) so, so much about reliance on the Lord and not myself through for strength in this thing called life. I've been meaning to get around to writing it on here like usual.

Right now, I'm working a full-time job for the first time in over a year: a pretty weird thing for a creative type like myself. The end of 2015 and all of 2016 was a period of life into which I poured myself primarily creatively: I quit jobs, moved states, gave up money and security for adventure and new horizons. I flew solo the whole time and I loved it. The journey and the growth were wonderful in every which way, spiritually, emotionally, and literally. In hindsight, I learned a lot in those months about trust, faith, living my purpose, and letting go.

But now, I'm working: in a city (okay, it's Asheville so it's really not that oppressive; and it's at Anthropologie, so it couldn't be more perfectly creative, but still...); I'm commuting, I'm 9-5ing and paying rent and saving money. Doing things that aren't quite like nomadic lifestyle I've become so accustomed to. I think if it weren't for a creative brain that explores and imagines so much within itself, I'd really be quite burned out. The story about how I found myself here is interesting and winding, but nonetheless, here I am.
Life always changes, but I know, and have been learning more, that part of me will always feel most authentic when I'm leaning into my free spirit, however I make that happen. Such a 'creative person' thing to say, right? But it's so true: we hate routine, we feel easily oppressed, we just want to make art, we fight to protect our craft and identity, and we need a life of passion, not the mundane. 

But I'll be thirty this year, which is a crazy thing to think about (and I usually don't) because for my whole life, I've felt either like I'm ten, or seventy. Life has been characterized by a desire to play, to wonder, to explore and learn with a childlike curiosity; and the desire to grow in wisdom, to be introverted and solitary, to focus on eternal things and not the trends of now. Some people call it having an old soul, and it's always been part of who I am.

Much of what I've really learned since coming to North Carolina (I got here in February) is that since having the Lord in my life (I came to faith since 2013), life has been something of a story. Less a matter of my own effort and more a reliance on my Creator, of looking not at the future but depending on my obedience to Him in the here-and-now and trusting that the best thing will happen because He is good, not because I am perfect, or sure.

Having my eyes fixed on an ultimate purpose has changed the steps I take, the decisions I make, and why I make them: there's an intention and direction in every action that leads in a particular direction. We're all on a road leading somewhere, and following Jesus, it's particular, intentional, not always easy, and definitely patience-inducing.

I live this life, but God orchestrates it, meaning the meaning comes from Him, not me. Things are less about what I want now, and more about doing what really serves the purpose I get from Him. It's funny how that basically is the Christian life, but we have to relearn it every. single. day, with each decision we make. It's this completely inner thing, and what people see from the outside is simply the fruit of closeness to Him, not personal effort. 
There's more at stake in life than personal happiness now: there's a specific purpose God needs me on a certain road of behavior, conformity to His likeness, and submission to His will to fulfill. It's nothing big or profound, just a simple way of being that He asks of each of us who will listen, and that He uses in obvious or subtle ways to call people to Him via us. We live now not for our own greatness, but for His, because we live in an ever-present awareness of ultimate faithfulness to a loving source. It's a big kind of love that still humbles me everyday.

Life in the light of the Gospel gives us the most profoundly unfathomable yet tangible model of sacrificial love, and that makes life harder and easier. Harder, because I can no longer think only about self-satisfaction in the present- I am now serving something bigger; and easier, for the same reason. We were designed to live the opposite of the way I've always tried and is probably pretty natural to most of us: independently, in our own strength, and I need to relearn that all the time. 

Acquiring the wisdom of Scripture means we ultimately have to apply it, and much of that application comes from trusting God's will, from giving the circumstance to Him where I fail to see how I can work it out. To my independent sense of personal stability and wisdom in my own eyes, it rarely makes much sense, that my desires have to die to the will of Christ all over again every day. Where my personality is independent, my soul must be dependent. Submitted. Obedient. Faithful. That's how God works in us: when we're out of our own way. 

But it is true that it's so hard (messy, confusing, doubt-inducing) to step out in faith when my faith is in myself. When we put our faith in ourselves, we sometimes never go anywhere because of fear. Feelings and emotions wind up overruling right action and, ultimately, giving the respect and love the Lord wants me to show myself and other people. But to step out in faith when my faith is in God- well, it's not always easier to do, but it is always affirming. And it always reminds me of an important reality: that the depth of my relationship with Him is the gauge and foundation on which every other relationship in my life will succeed or fail. Knowing Him intimately affects how able I am to accurately see- and love, and truly know- other people. I think it's a very important thing.
It's temptation of happiness outside of joy in Him that makes us want to rebel and work things out as we want to. Resting in God is a safe place, always. Trusting even when it doesn't make sense is a good thing, always. Obedience and submission is a sign of love, and obedience- faithfulness- always yields the better result, even if it seems like a blind, illogical leap where we can't see the bottom.

There's something about not just trusting Him, but being obedient, that I'm learning in every arena of life right now. The more that comes up, the more opportunities we have, the more we are tested. I find myself having to remind myself to ask a lot now: does this- whatever it is- optimally serve God, or is it just what I seem to want? Does this opportunity (or relationship, or situation, or pattern of behavior) really help me get in line with what God wants from my life and character, and does it allow space for Him in my heart? Does it draw me closer to Christ, the direction in which I'm ultimately moving?

Does this road run parallel to where God is taking me, or am I self-interested? And we only ask these questions when God is saturating our minds and hearts most prominently, and that only happens when we're diligent in Him above all things. That's an active, dedicated process, but it's hard when your plate is full: to read Scripture, to engage in discussion and community, to go to church, to utilize resources... life gets busy. But in the words of Charles Spurgeon: "if Christ is to be anything, He must be everything."
I'm learning that obedience is not perfect behavior, but a constant return to where He wants us when He calls us there. It's okay to fail. It's okay to fall when life starts filling with challenges and more to do. But to paraphrase C.S. Lewis: "we all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means turning around and walking back to the right one. The man who turns back soonest is the most progressive." To be progressive in faith, and thus in life, we have to listen to His voice over our doubt and fear, and constantly return home. 

Not the man who gets ahead quickest, or looks the most perfect from the outside, but the man who's on the right road to begin with- and moves himself there when he's not. It's not about judgement or self-righteousness, but about prioritizing that inner relationship we have with Him on which we've committed to building our life. Saying 'no' to the job that's maybe going to distract you from more important things in life. Turning from relationships that violate boundaries. Ending conversations that indulge in gossip or negativity. Having the courage to leave what is comfortable for what grows us in the right ways.

I'm learning that a life of faith is a life of little things done not always well, or perfectly, but obediently. A full life of faith is fully submitted. And the joy is actually in that totality. Religion finds God useful, and calls on Him sometimes, but Christian life finds Him beautiful, and relies on Him daily, even when things don't make sense. It is at times a surreal battle to be fighting. Trust is such a difficult thing, but the lesson is always the same: God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him. I'm learning, always learning. We don't know where the road goes, but if we're going where He intends, we will have more than what we want: we will have what He wants for us, which is the richest thing of all.

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