I’m on vacation this week and so am repeating some prior posts. Looking forward to being with you again next week, with new material. God bless.
The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself – the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us – that’s where it’s at. - Olympic Gold Medalist Jesse Owens
In 1984 I stepped into a professional counselor’s office for the first time, frightened at the prospect of discussing things I’d never spoken to anyone about, and vulnerable beyond words. I was twenty nine years old, and had just made a decision so momentous it required me to relocate to another county, release most of my friendships, abandon my social network, and find a new job, church, and identity. I had just said yes to following Christ, which required saying no to the sexual behaviors I’d been indulging.
With all that on my plate, you’d think I’d have a lot to say when the counselor opened our session by asking, “So what brings you here?” But no. Despite the emotional tornado in my gut, I sat dumbfounded, scrambling for the right words to form my questions and describe my pain. So while I stared at him mutely, he leaned back in his chair, nodding and indicating with a shrug that he’d wait, along with me, for the words to come.
“I’m a Christian”, I finally bleated, “and I’ve been backslidden, and wrong, so I’m starting over.”
“And what”, he asked quietly, “does starting over mean?”
My own answer left me desolate. “I—don’t—have—any—idea!”
Then I wept, long and hard, while he listened. And that’s how it all began.
This is a week of convergence for many people, the immediate past and future muddled together for a few rather weird, tired days . We’re still reeling from Christmas and cleaning up the aftermath, while adjusting to a new year and the demands it brings, one of which is that we do what we’ve been saying we’ll do as soon as the holidays are over. And that will include a few hard looks in the mirror, driving us to the God of mercy and renewal. We’ll want to start something over – the way we eat, talk, keep our records, manage our time, do the yard – and the One we answer to for the way we direct our lives will logically ask, “So what does starting over look like?” I’ve got a few ideas in response.
First, starting over will mean paying more attention to my character than my work. Throughout 2011 I have stressed considerably over projects and income, without worrying much about my lack of patience, physical discipline (translate stuffing myself) and closeness to my wife. The “inevitable battles inside all of us” mentioned by Jesse Owens above haven’t been battles for me this year. They’ve been surrenders by default, because I simply haven’t shown up. I’m determined this coming year will see a different outcome.
Second, starting over will mean emphasis on bearing fruit more than creating product. We’ve all been given gifts and abilities, and it’s a fine thing to use them. But sometimes, in our own spiritual dryness, the outcome is not so much the fruit of our own life and experience as it is a recitation of truths we know but don’t necessarily live out. You can tell the difference, I think. When I create product it largely comes from my cognitive ability to put together ideas. When I bear fruit, cognition comes into play, for sure, but there’s also a strong sense of the finished product coming from my core, a result of what by God’s grace I have or do experience. Plainly put, I want to be a garden, not a factory. They both produce, but one flourishes while the other cranks away.
Finally, starting over will mean sharpening my edge. There are vital truths to be kept at our mind’s forefront, including the fact people are either born again or they’re not, meaning most are lost; Satan is alive and well; the Second Coming is imminent; and we’ll all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, very soon, to give an account of ourselves. When these truths aren’t influencing my thoughts and decisions, it means I’m losing my edge, living my life as a nice guy who goes with the flow rather than a vibrant disciple who knows and follows. Truths that are eternal are also, by their nature, imperatives. God help us all treat them as such.
Those are the thoughts that are getting me pumped to clear up the old business and get on with the new.