Why I'm Leaving Canada
Yes, my dear friends and family; in case the news has yet to reach you, I will be leaving my hometown of Cornwall as well as my home and native land of Canada this upcoming August, and moving to Redding, California for about 9 months to go to Bethel Church’s “School of Supernatural Ministry.”
Yep. I know it’s a little crazy.
So I figured I’d throw up a blog post explaining some of the thoughts and reasons behind this crazy adventure I’m embarking on. But first, I thought I’d start with some things that are not reasons I’m doing this. So, let’s get started:
I’m not leaving because I hate Cornwall.
I hear a lot of people talk badly about Cornwall. I recognize it’s not the Garden of Eden or the epicentre of all things bright and beautiful in the world (I’d argue Redding is probably pretty close to that 😉), but I actually really like Cornwall. Honestly. Maybe it’s because I was born here and am, by nature, a loyal person, but I also think that people tend to always think the grass is greener on the other side, rather than focusing on watering their side of the fence. Life after Bethel is very much a mysterious black box to me, but my current plan is to move right back to Cornwall and throw myself into whatever role I have of continuing to see the city transformed. I am not leaving because I hate Cornwall.
I’m not leaving because I hate Canada or have gotten tired of it’s winters.
I’m guessing most people reading this know this about me, but the fact that I will miss out a Canadian winter because of this move is 100% a sacrifice, not a perk. I absolutely love Canada, and everything it is. I love snowboarding down a long, meandering slope, or playing ice hockey with neighbour kids at the local rink. I love sipping on a hot cup of something delicious while watching the snow gently fall outside. I love that feeling you get when the snow first starts to fall and you know you can finally listen to Christmas music without feeling weird about it. I love bundling up and tromping around some snow-covered winter wonderland with a group of friends, and then following it up by piling inside, starting a fire in a wood stove, mixing up some hot chocolate, and sitting down to a long afternoon of board games. I am not leaving because I’ve grown tired of Canada or its winters.
I’m not moving because of relational issues.
To start with, let me state plainly that this past year has been the most challenging of my life. Period. Full stop. The primary reason for this is because of some really hard relational circumstances. I have never felt more hurt, frustrated, or downright confused when it comes to relationships than this past year.
But that’s still not the reason I’m leaving. There’s no one I’m running away from, no situation I’m trying to hide from. And it’s not because all of these issues have been totally resolved and wrapped up. They are definitely better than they have been, but not to the extent where I could confidently say that everything will be smooth sailing from here. I will admit that I tend to shy away from conflict, but I absolutely do not believe running from these things is going to solve anything. If anything, I would be more inclined to try to force some sort of resolution of these situations before I leave, but I also don’t think that’s the best approach.
All that to say, I am trusting God with these relationships. I don’t know what they are supposed to look like by the time I leave in August, and I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like when I come back, or three years after that. But I’m not running away from them. I am simply placing them in God’s hands, and trusting that He will take care of what it’s supposed to look like before, during, and after my time in Redding. I’m not moving because of relational issues.
I’m not leaving because I’m frustrated with my church.
No church is perfect. If you go to church, I guarantee it’s not perfect because, spoiler alert, you aren’t perfect. My church isn’t perfect either. There are things about it I wish were different or better, and even some non-core beliefs that I still have a hard time getting totally on board with.
But all of those things are small and pretty insignificant when compared to how much I absolutely love my church and what it’s doing. I believe in Harvest Christian Fellowship perhaps more than I ever have before. It actually feels a bit frustrating that I can’t responsibly get much more involved than I am, seeing as I will be leaving relatively soon. I love the people, and the direction we’re going.
On a related note, I’d like to believe I have always valued the opportunity to play drums as part of worship for the church, but having the context of leaving in a few months makes me treasure the opportunities I have to lead my friends in worship that much more. Smashing animal skins and metal disks as we build into a crescendoing chorus of worship and being able to look out a group of family and friends all connecting with Jesus, is something I hope I will never take for granted.
I plan on auditioning for the worship team for Bethel’s school, and I really hope I get in. It would be an incredible privilege and opportunity to help lead worship for hundreds of my fellow students in an atmosphere I am sure will be charged with excitement and passion. I think it's safe to say there will be more people in a larger auditorium that will be, on average, more engaged with the worship when compared to my home church. If I do end up getting to drum for worship during school, it would be incredibly exciting.
But it won't be the same. Nothing could possibly replace knowing the people you are helping to lead in worship. And I know the people in my church.
He used to be an atheist. They are still trying to figure out if they believe in this Jesus stuff. She lost her dad. They’ve known me and my family since before I could talk. They had a miscarriage. He’s been trying to find a job. They are holding their miracle baby. I teach him drums every week.
That might end up being the thing I miss the most when I'm gone. Again, drumming in larger contexts always brings with it a measure of extra excitement, but I know it won’t be able to replace looking at faces that I know the stories behind while I help lead them in worship. I’m not going to Bethel because I’m looking for a more grandiose worship drumming experience.
And, of course, my church is far from just a place I get to help lead worship at. It is moving. It's expanding. People in my hometown of Cornwall are encountering Jesus like never before in my church.
People who were staunch atheists a couple of years ago are helping greet people at the door. Broken and insecure people are finding community and real relationships in small groups. Lives are being changed and transformed. And I truly believe it's just the beginning.
Like I said, I think I may believe in my church more now than I ever have, which makes it that much harder to think about leaving. I am not leaving because I’m frustrated with my church.
I’m not going because I dislike my job.
Ok, so I don’t really like commuting from Cornwall to Ottawa every workday, but that is, by far, the worst part of my job. I enjoy the kind of work I do, I enjoy my coworkers, and the company certainly provides more benefits than I could reasonably expect at most other places. I’m aware of that. Nav Canada is a pretty awesome place to work.
They are even cool enough to give me a sabbatical for this crazy schooling in California, so I might just keep on working at Nav Canada when I’m done my year of schooling. Or I might find a different software development job in Cornwall. Or maybe God will call me to an entirely different type of job in Cornwall. Or maybe God will call me to somewhere else entirely. Like I said, I actually have no idea what comes after Bethel, but I’m not leaving because I’m try to escape my job.
And, no, I’m not going to find a wife.
Ok, so I want to get married. Duh. Most people do. And if you’ve been around the Christian world long enough you have probably heard some jokes about “Bible College” being more like “Bridal College.” It kinda makes sense, really. Logically speaking, most people attending a Bible school are going to be absolutely sold-out for Jesus, and almost certainly looking for a spouse with the same passion. I know I am. So it actually makes a lot of sense that people would find their eventual spouses in a Bible College-like setting.
All that to say, there is a better overall probability of me finding a wife hanging out at Bethel’s school for 9 months than staying in Cornwall. That’s just statistics for you, just straight math. And, obviously, it would be an amazing bonus if that was part of the result. It would be way worth the cost of tuition and living expenses and not working full time for 9 months if it ended with me meeting my eventual wife. But I (mostly) trust God’s timing with this area, and I know that God isn’t limited by any sort of setting. Maybe He will use Bethel’s school as a context for me meeting my wife, but He could also make it happen at my home church this weekend if He wanted.
So finding a wife isn’t the reason I’m going to California. Put another way, I would still be going if Bethel’s school separated the genders, such that there wasn’t any interaction between guys and girls and thus no chance of me finding a wife there. I am not going to Bethel’s school to find a wife.
So why am I going?
Well, that's a reasonable question, but it looks like I've already used up the acceptable word count for one of my blog posts, so I think I'll leave you hanging and make this a two-parter. I promise next time I'll give you the list of things that are reasons I'm going!
Before me stands a raging river. The steep cliff where my foot would fall if I took one more step confirms that the water here has run long, slowly cutting out chasm that now blocks my path.
The other side calls to me. Beyond the river are dreams, hopes, the future I know God has built into the timeline of my life, shaded and mysterious though it may be.
I’ve paced this side of the river for a long time. Long enough that it’s hard to truly know how much time has passed. Weeks? Months? Years? It all blends together.
Yes, I’ve been pacing and pondering for awhile now. Trying to figure out a way across the river, to the grand future I know awaits me.
I glance to my right. There’s the bridge, of course, but it’s not safe. In stark contrast to a bridge that might try to appear safe but sways uneasily when you decide to trust it; this one makes no attempt to disguise its weathered and broken boards. There are gaps between the footholds, each one with a story to tell that might very well all end with some poor, weary traveller’s last step.
No, this bridge is not safe. But it seems I am left with no other options. It appears to be the only path. The only way from where I am to where I know I’m supposed to be.
I take a couple steps back from the cliff’s edge and start walking again, slowly, meandering in the direction of the rickety old bridge. It’s ironic, really.
I’ve talked about this exact bridge before. I’ve made it a point to speak to new and younger Christians about its importance. I’ve written blogs about it before. I’ve literally preached about it’s necessity in a Christian’s life.
And yet here I stand, somehow hesitant to take that first step.
As I near the bridge my eyes are drawn up. There’s a simple, equally-battered sign attached to the start of the footbridge, crooked and barely still attached after all these years. It reads simply enough, only containing a single word:
I grimace as I slow to a stop in front of it, the word echoing around my head.
I think through the endless Christian-ize, the kind of stuff I’ve heard preached from a stage and echoed in my own conversations with people.
“Find a good Christian friend you can do life with.”
“Having a good mentor to speak into your life is essential.”
“The Christian life isn’t mean to be lived alone; get in a good community of Jesus-followers.”
I believe that stuff. I really do. So why does it feel like I’ve failed? Why does it feel like I actually have very few people, outside my family, who really, truly know me? Who know my hopes and dreams, my fears and failures, my craziest ideas of what God might want me to do?
I‘ve got my excuses. Perhaps guessing you can relate.
I’ve tried to share dreams and been met with skeptical questions and flat-out laughter.
I’ve assumed this kind of thing gets resolved once you get married.
It pains me to say it, but I’ve looked longingly at other communities that appear to have the depth I crave, compared their members to the people around me, and somehow deemed my own friends as not good enough. I’ve arrogantly thought of myself as being above those around me, and thus, naturally, not able to be encouraged and challenged by them.
And I’ve thought myself above the need for others as a collective idea. After all, truly being open and honest with a friend is what you do when you’re really messed up. Needing other people is for those that aren’t strong enough to make it on their own… Right?
But here, on the wrong side of where I feel called to, all of the excuses fall flat.
Sure, laughter hurts. It always does a little. But not everyone’s default stance is to be critical, and laughter can’t hurt as much as much as wasted potential.
If I’m honest, I’m still hoping that a marriage relationship helps a bit, but it seems a little silly to wait around for that.
And the thinking that one needs a certain caliber of people around them before it’s worth investing in their community? Let’s spend a bit of time debunking that one.
I think the easiest example to pull from is from the life of David. I’m guessing even those of you who don’t have a background in religion at least know a bit about this guy. Killed Goliath, ruled as king for 40 years, and conquered a ton of enemy territory in the process. Pretty famous guy, Biblically and historically speaking.
But before he was a king, he was hanging out in a cave. And people start gathering around him. Only these aren’t the high-rollers or the guys winning the strongmen competitions. 1 Samuel 22:2 starts off like this:
“All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him”
Cool. So we got the distressed, the indebted, and the discontented. The people who we literally running away from their problems. In other words: the losers.
But the verse goes on:
“… and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him”
So he’s got 400 of these losers. But I think it’s interesting that the Bible describes David as becoming their commander.
David was more than just some random guy wandering the wilderness who just happened to attract other aimless souls. He became their commander. That speaks of organization. That speaks of order. That speaks of an army.
David takes the losers around him, and turns them into an army. They are more than a little hesitant to actually act on their newfound identity (1 Samuel 23:3), but when they do, it’s an undeniable success (1 Samuel 23:5). The Bible records this number of vagrants growing over David’s time in the wilderness, and most Biblical historians would agree that the top-ranking men of this band of misfits ends up being known as David’s “Mighty Men” during his time as King.
David took a bunch of puny, scared weaklings who are running away from their problem and turns them into a growing army of mighty men that history still reveres.
Maybe it’s normal to compare your own friend group to other groups. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s an awfully disloyal thing to do. I know I truly do have some awesome friends, but even if they were a bunch of homeless, aimless, visionless and broken cast-aways, a leader like David would see their potential to become an army. I want to see the potential in those around me. I want to stop whining about the state of my community and start investing in changing it. And who knows? Maybe the truth is that I am one of those losers, wandering around looking for a leader who will believe in me. But I sure hope I’ve got enough David in me to stop putting all my hope in that.
The funny thing is, I think everyone wants this. I think everyone wants to be known, to have someone truly understand their innermost thoughts and desires, and to do the same for those around them. I think everyone wants a cheerleader, and to have someone else to cheer for. But someone has to take that first step and decide to invest in it, with nothing more than hope that those around them will jump in.
I place my right foot up onto the bridge, and slowly ease my weight onto it. As I expected, it gives a little as I increase the pressure, but holds fast when I lift up my left foot and commit.
I’m here, now, on the bridge. I breathe deeply and take another step, gingerly easing forward, bracing myself for a sudden snap beneath me. But I keep moving.
This isn’t safe. There aren’t guarantees.
Actually, scratch that: on second thought, there are a few things you can count on.
You’ll get hurt. You’ll get frustrated. You’ll misunderstand and be misunderstood. Sometimes, you’ll part ways with people you’ve invested blood, sweat, and tears in.
But, to address my final excuse, I now see that needing people is not, in fact an indication of failure or weakness. Needing others is not solely or even primarily the means for getting back on track after making a mess big enough you can’t clean it up on your own (though, speaking from personal experience, it is absolutely beautiful at that too). It’s not an optional path for those who prefer it.
Rather, I am coming to believe that needing others indicates a willingness to do whatever it takes to advance. To get to the next level. To be free and whole and ever more suitable for the mission that I believe God’s placed me on earth for.
Deciding to need others is an unavoidable, irreplaceable, integral part of the journey from where you are to where God’s called you. It’s the only way across. There’s no skipping in line, no jumping past this part, no shortcuts. You can either stay on this side of the river forever, or give in to trusting the rickety, unsteady bridge.
I’m starting to think the level of freedom and potential in one’s life might be directly related to their willingness to be honest with other people. To their commitment to knowing and being known by others.
Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, I’ve decided I want — no, need — radical community. I want dangerous togetherness. I want to be uncomfortably known. I’m coming to believe it’s worth the risk.
I don’t really know what that looks like. I have no doubt I’ll fail, and I’ll probably pick up some scars along the way. Heck, I’ve already accomplished that and that was before I put a foot up on the bridge.
But I’ve decided I want to live inside an open, honest, safe, authentic, encouraging and challenging culture, and I want it badly enough that I’ll do what I can to be the start.
The bridge shifts as I take another step...
Where do you find God?
Do you find Him in the Bible? In your bedtime prayers?
Do you find Him in a cup of coffee, or a cup of tea? Maybe you find Him in a song, or a book. Maybe you see Him in a sunrise, or a waning moon.
Maybe you find Him under a layer of dirt, or under the crushing waves of the ocean. Maybe you find Him in the noise, or in the silence. In the crowd or in isolation.
Maybe you see Him best on the mountaintop, or maybe you find Him in the valleys. Maybe you’ve seen Him in the desert, or played with Him in the beauty of a waterfall.
Maybe you’ve seen Him in a storm, or in the beauty of utter stillness. In the beauty of falling snow, or in the dusty streets of a rural, impoverished village.
Have you found Him in a friend? How about in an enemy? You’ve probably seen Him in a leader, but how about in one of your followers?
The morning? The evening? The dead of night?
Do you find God in the much-needed relaxation of a vacation? Or maybe you’ve found Him in what feels like the mundane day-to-day.
In a healing, or in the process before?
Maybe you find God in the celebration of a prayer answered, or in the honest venting of frustration at answers delayed.
There’s a billion places you could find God. That’s one of the great things about Him. What to one person might be a casual, every-day happening might spark the greatest revelation about Jesus someone else has ever received.
In my opinion, one sign of maturing in Jesus is learning how to adapt how you find Him.
When I was in my teens, the most consistent place for me to find Jesus was by myself in worship. In my room listening to “Delirious?” albums, in my parent’s basement strumming on a guitar, or wandering in my moonlit backyard with a ukulele. I found God on many of those nights.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still think personal worship times with Jesus are absolutely irreplaceable. But that isn’t usually the way that I connect to Jesus on a deep level anymore.
These days, worshipping with a group of people, memorizing a Bible verse (who knew that could be so good? Seriously, try that instead of your daily chapter sometime), or sitting at Starbucks with a grande Cinnamon Almond Macchiato and journaling thoughts and streams that I myself don’t even understand are the main avenues that I find connect me with Jesus like nothing else.
I suppose my point is this:
Try something new.
Steep yourself a cup of tea and hide away in your room for an evening. Go for a walk out in the falling snow, maybe even without your phone. Take up gardening. Write down all the ways you’re frustrated with Him. Write down all the ways He’s come through for you in the last year. Write down all the things you’re believing Him for. Step into that thing you’ve always felt both pulled towards and terrified of. That might be the place He meets you.
Embrace the storm, and learn how to let the waves propel you instead of crush you. You might just find Jesus wandering around on those same waves.
Here in the Middle
So. Life. That happened.
If my records are correct, my last blog post was April 1st. That’s 183 days and 29520 seconds from the time of this writing, in case you were curious. (Turns out, I was)
There are a lot of things that have kept me from writing a blog post during that time.
My entire, now even further-spread out family got together during the summer, so you know I wasn’t about to sit down to write for two hours with 16 little nephews and nieces running around.
I was privileged to be in the weddings of two really great friends. That takes some time.
And of course, with summer always comes general business of trying to make the most of it, and usually that involves being outside more than being in.
But, if I’m honest, none of those are reasons are the big ones. There’s been a lot more that’s preventing me from blogging.
Without question, this past half year has been the hardest season of my life. Despite being distracted by just trying to keep my head above water some days, when I did find the time to sit down and try to write, it’s been really hard to figure out what and how to write about things. Turns out it’s really hard to gain perspective enough to write about a season that you feel like you’re just blindly stumbling through.
So that’s the first big reason I haven’t blogged recently. Like a maze of corn, it’s a lot easier to describe the way through it to people once you’re out on the other side, and, though I’m writing now, I still don’t think I’ve made it through yet.
One of the great things about God is that He never wastes a season. I have a long list of things that He has taught or is teaching me through this season, hard as it’s been. But even more than the conscious things I’ve learned, I absolutely believe that in the years to come I will discover things that God built into my life during this time, even if I wasn’t aware of them at the time.
As much as there are times that I’d like to yell at God for the brutality that has been these few months, I know that I am learning things that I likely couldn’t learn any other way. What’s more, this time of craziness is probably at least a little bit my fault anyways; I distinctly remember driving home from work sometime last year simply praying that God would make me more dependent on Him, and on another occasion asking that my Faith would “burn” more. I had just meant that I didn’t want my Faith to grow stagnant or become a comfortable, fake Faith, but I suppose this is one way of answering that prayer.
So that’s the second big reason I haven’t blogged recently: it’s simply hard to pick a topic. From bitterness to love, resentment and frustration, there are simply too many things that have happened in the last while to write about in a single blog post. I’ve been learning to focus on the excitement of an unknown future instead of the sadness that letting go of the past can bring. I have experienced a deep uncertainty in how to properly navigate some situations. I believe I have gained a greater humility and empathy. I have learned about trust. I have learned about relationships and expectations. I have learned about the gap between intent and impact.
So how do you choose from the list? I’m not sure. That seems to be a bit of a theme for me lately.
But I finally decided that writing about a small sliver of the nature of God that I feel I have learned about (or at least gained a greater appreciation for) is probably a safe bet. So let’s give that a go, shall we?
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
If you’re a Christian, and have been for more than a few months, you probably have heard this verse. If you’ve been a Christian for a year or two, you’ve almost certainly read it in your own devotions, and heard Christian songs written about it. If you’ve been a Christian most of your life, it’s likely you’ve memorized at least parts of this passage at some point in your life.
And, if you’re like me, you just start to gloss over some of this stuff.
“Right right, Jesus is super everywhere. Got it. Also, why would I ever intentionally go to hell? That seems weird.”
Yep. I think we all start to do that.
So let me try to share one thing I feel I’ve learned about God during the past half year:
He is committed.
Hardcore. Naively. Dangerously. Nonsensically. Surprisingly. Unfathomably.
In this season, there have been days of complete and utter uncertainty. In my self, in the choices I was making, in what I was feeling, in how I was responding… You name it.
And I don’t mean to be overly dramatic or especially mysterious by not sharing details, but I honestly wondered if I was just off the deep end. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe the emotions I was experiencing were completely out of whack. Maybe I was the problem. Maybe the choices I was making, even right then and there, were the wrong ones, leading me down the wrong paths, leading me to a fiery, crash-and-burn ruination of my life.
Ok. Maybe that is a little over-dramatic. But it is how I honestly felt in those moments.
I wondered if these would be the choices that others would look at in sad amazement, wondering how someone like me could have handled the circumstances so badly. I felt like there was about a 50% chance that the things I felt were normal, natural responses to the circumstances that most people would experience, and about a 50% chance that I just didn’t get it, didn’t understand, and couldn’t ever understand. That this was a hurdle others had jumped over flawlessly, without a second thought, and one that I wouldn’t ever be able to climb over.
Again, this might seem (and might be) somewhat over-dramatic, but I remember thinking that there could end up being a stigma attached to being associated with me, at least on a deep level. After all, you don’t really want to be known as the guy who was best friends with that one who went crazy and started making bad decision after bad decision. I remember thinking that a smart, safe choice for anyone close to me would be to step back a couple feet and watch at a bit of a distance until it was clear which side of the crazy I was on. I certainly didn’t know.
And then, I looked up.
And He was right there.
Just like He’d been the whole time, holding me tight against the oncoming waves, strengthening me in ways I hadn’t even recognized.
My Best Friend, the Faithful one, Jesus.
It actually felt wrong. This wasn’t a safe place for someone to be, close to me, least of all someone so perfectly pure as Jesus. I might be steering this ship down a waterfall for all I knew. A “smart” move for Jesus, a choice that would protect His reputation, would be to leave me until it my fate was more stable, until the train I was engineering was back on it’s rails.
In some ways, it surprised me that He was still there. It shouldn’t have, but it did.
See, what I learned about God is that I can’t get away from Him, even if I tried. It’s never been me hanging on to Him; He’s always been holding fast to me, and He doesn’t let go when the seas get choppy. In the places where it doesn’t make sense, where it’s surprising to find anyone willing to walk with you, He’s right there, happy to be involved in your process.
He is utterly and ridiculously committed.
Sure, He’ll be with you when you soar on the winds of heaven, but if you decide you wanna run your life to the ground and beyond, to the closest thing to hell you could get yourself to, He’s still within earshot. If you throw yourself into the seas, certain to be drowned, He’ll be swimming right along next to you.
And let me say this: even without God, I was never alone. I do have friends and family willing to walk through anything with me, and another thing I’ve learned in this process is that I’m bad at using that help. It’s something I’m working on it.
I also don’t think that I’m any real danger of irreversibly breaking my life anymore. That’s a comforting thought.
But even if I was in that kind of danger, even if my deepest friends and all my family decided I was simply too far gone, too broken, and too ruined to associate with, even if I was taking the ridiculously blessed live God had given me had and throwing it away in my hurting state…
Even then, I know God would be with me.
His proximity to me is in no way related to the quality of my choices.
He is just close. Always close. Always, always…
Can’t go back to the beginning... Can’t control what tomorrow will bring... But I know here in the middle... Is the place where You promise to be
So there’s this song called “Good Good Father.” If you’re in Christian circles, you’ve likely heard it a lot. It kinda swept across churches all over the place in a very short amount of time, and has become a mainstay for many of them, including my own church.
To be honest, I’ve never really loved the song. I mean, I love the message it’s conveying, but somehow it’s never really “grabbed” me, if you will. Perhaps it’s the simplistic musicality that somehow bores the musician in me or something, but it’s just never been on the top of my list for worship songs.
So of course God, being the humorous God that He is, decided to use that song as a vehicle to speak to me on two separate occasions during our morning services a few Sundays ago.
I’ve referenced in previous blogs that my relationship with God has been hard lately. Very strange, and difficult to understand; certainly unlike anything I’ve experienced before in my “Spiritual journey,” if you will. So when I feel like I get something from God, it’s like a breath of fresh air, reminding me that, yes, God’s still real, and still does care about me, even if I don’t feel that every day.
All that to say that what I felt God communicate to me a few weeks ago both excited and challenged me in the same instant. Let’s dive in to the first thing:
I am someone who has grown up going to church and learning about Jesus. At the very least, I am extremely good at playing the part of Christian, and doing what is expected of a “good church kid”. Whether or not that translates to real life change is a separate concern, but the point of it is that a big part of my identity up to this point in my life has been in my ability to love God. That is intrinsically attached to me and even, I think, to my sense of self-worth.
But in this season with God, I feel like I am not very good at loving God. I don’t “feel” it like I have in the past. I am still doing the Christian things that I’ve done in previous seasons, and I absolutely still have moments with God that are breath-taking, but they are more the exception than the rule.
So what does a church kid do when part of his identity is found in something (“loving God”) that he no longer feels good at?
If I heard God right a few Sunday’s ago, it’s to change where I find my identity. I think instead of identifying as a “lover of God,” I need to instead simply identify as “loved by God.”
That is constant. That is steady. That is something as unchanging as the stars at night. That is something that will not waver in the storms of life, or when life just feels different than it ever has before. It will not waver in distractions, or failures, or relational difficulties.
To quote that afore-mentioned “Good Good Father” song,
“I’m loved by You. It’s who I am.”
And maybe that’s really the only identity that matters. Maybe part of the purpose in this season of me feeling like I’m not good at loving God is Him stripping away that part of my identity that, though comforting up until this season, is actually unhealthy.
It reminds me of John, who wrote one of the four eye-witness accounts of Jesus that are in the Bible (known as the “Gospels”). In referring to himself in his writings, he frequently swapped out his name in favour of the title that he apparently attributed to himself: “the disciple that Jesus loved.” (John 13:23-25, 19:26-27, 20:1-10, 21:20-24)
He didn’t declare himself to be the most obedient, or the most anointed, or the one who loved Jesus most. He didn’t even declare himself to be most loved by Jesus. He simply declared that Jesus loved him, and that seemed to be enough for him.
It’s a weird shift for me, this change in identity. It’s almost like I’ve been running a race against God, trying to make my love for Him somehow keep up with His love for me, like I’m out to prove that He made a good, logical choice in deciding to love me. This season feels like me finally giving up on that race, and in the process, realizing two things:
First, if you’ll follow the metaphor through with me, there wasn’t ever a hope of me winning this race. As I collapse on the ground in a fit of exhaustion from pushing my love beyond the breaking point, finally realizing that I simply have no more capacity to love, I catch of glimpse of Jesus. He isn’t even winded. He looks like he could run for another million miles. And, in fact, He can. This wasn’t ever a fair race to begin with. My losing was inevitable.
Second, it doesn’t matter. His love for me hasn’t wavered or changed since my energy and passion to love Him has faltered. I could be crawling, stopped dead, or even running in the wrong direction. It wouldn’t matter; His love is constant and steady at full throttle.
I need to learn how to let myself be loved by God when I have nothing to give Him in return.
So that was the first thing I learned that Sunday morning, that I need to learn how to find my identity in the fact that I am loved by God, as opposed to finding it in my feeble attempts to return that love.
The second is related to fear. Fear, if you believe the Bible, shouldn’t exist in a human fully opened to God’s love:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” - 1 John 4:18
And yet, I fear. In particular, it has recently become readily apparent that I possess a fear of failure. I hadn’t really given that fact much thought, but on that same Sunday I feel like God highlighted and illuminated it for me in a thought:
There only two possible reasons for a fear of failure.
First, I can fear failure if I’m unsure of God’s love. That is, if I fail, I think that perhaps God’s love won’t be there anymore, or at least not to it’s fullest extent. It might waver if I really screw something up badly.
The second possibility is that I am not fully satisfied and complete in God’s love. I find at least part of my fulfillment and satisfaction in something else that very well might change if I fail.
I don’t think there is a third option. If I were both fully satisfied and fully trusting in the never-changing love of an eternal being that created me for His own delight, what could failure possibly do to me?
In some ways, I would become invincible. I would know that if I fall flat on my face in the most public and humiliating way possible, I could rely on God to come help me up, brush me off, and keep on loving me the exact same way.
To be honest, I’m still not sure which of those two lines of faulty thinking are responsible for my fear of failure. I suppose I am still going through the diagnosis stage of this internal medical procedure. But I know that God doesn’t reveal faults just to let them sit there; He’s working on it, and even though this this season in God is frequently frustrating and nearly always confusing, I retain excitement for what God is doing in me through it. Whatever I look like at the end of this, it’s going to be good.
So. That’s what the “Good Good Father” song helped teach me recently. First, that I need to learn how to simply receive God’s love better, regardless of my intermittent abilities to return the favour, and find my identity in God’s perfect and unchanging love instead of my flawed version of it. Second, that my fear of failure is caused by either a faulty understanding of God’s love, or by my finding fulfillment in things outside of it; likely some combination of both.
“Let me know that You hear me
Let me know Your touch
Let me know that You love me
And let that be enough”
Switchfoot, “Let that Be Enough”