It was quite a few years ago, and I was flailing.
I spent my youth being excited about the future. When I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, I was filled with hope for what I knew my role in the world would be. I pictured triumphant, I pictured world changing. I pictured importance; being important, being seen by important people. I pictured flash and bang. It was going to be riding in on white horses, it was going to be great faith.
Imagine my distress when I found nothing of the sort. In my organization, which was involved with outreach to homeless youth, I became a leader. It turned out that Christian leadership in my life meant a formalized pressure, meant not talking about my feelings, meant being criticized even when I felt that I was doing my best. (Because who else do you look at when everything is going wrong?) It meant making a ton of mistakes. It meant being poor in a rich city and working for free on things that were unappreciated.
Where did I go wrong? I wondered. Where did all that hope go? What is this crap? I looked darkly at other people who were older, still spending their lives working with people, leading them, pastoring or whatever they did, and my first thought was always, "Why the hell are you still doing this?"
I can't emphasize how disillusioned I was. I felt that something had gone so wrong. I was full of promise when I was sixteen, seventeen! I was an artist! Now I was twenty-four with two kids and one on the way. I lived in a one room cabin. I worked at administration during every hour that I wasn't with my kids, sometimes I worked with my kids, jiggling the carrier or crib to keep them sleeping, giving them one more bowl of cheerios to keep them busy until I was finished. I hated administration. I no longer painted. Not only that, but people didn't seem to LIKE me anymore. Me! Who had always been so likeable! A lot of people seemed more inclined to be angry or frustrated with me. And for good reason. I was anxious and unstable, I was capricious and tired. I felt everything in the world as a judgment against me. I was doing it all wrong and I didn't even know how to fix it.
Then a friend of mine told me about a teacher that she was listening to. "He's this Presbyterian minister in New York," she said. "He teaches so clearly."
His name is Dr. Timothy Keller. He loves God and he teaches the Bible at his church in New York City. He's a Presbyterian. (I grew up in a charismatic movement, so Presbyterians are positively exotic to me.)
He's a wonderful intellectual, clear teacher, and many of his sermons are online. I started with the Wisdom of the Proverbs series, and it was like a breath of fresh air. And then I started the Living in Hope series. This is the moment that my life changed. It was like a second conversion.
I still remember when I heard the first sermon in the series. I was driving down the 101 in my van, in Northern California. There was sunlight flashing through the trees onto the highway. I was headed to a prenatal appointment, and had an hour and a half long drive in front of me. As I listened, the sunlight dazzled me. The trees grew taller, more vibrant. I found myself gasping for air.
"How you live now is completely determined by your believed in future," was what Dr. Keller said.
The whole sermon was like having your best friend shake you hard, saying Look at what you've become! You've missed it entirely!
What it means is that you wake up every day believing that some day, your work will pay off. It means that you have the ability to wake up because you believe that there is some reward for you. I wasn't finding the reward I was looking for in my life. My expectations had been for something so much better than what I was getting.
But I realized that I wasn't looking far enough forward. I thought I had given birth, but really I was still in labor.
This is the uncomfortable, magicky kind of talk that discomfits people who are skeptical about a life following Jesus or about religion in general. But the truth is that the Christian faith centers around a very real future, where everything will be made right.
Where we will be made right.
We live in hope that all the good that we feel is the way the world SHOULD be will one day BE. It means that none of this, none of the unmet desires are in vain. Think of how disappointing it would be if we felt that this was all there was. I KNOW deep in myself, that good is true, is real. My own faltering attempts can't even touch what is really there, the real world, the place my own work scarcely resembles. But one day. One day we will see it.
So I saw, in a flash, that all the desires I had, for comfort, for love, for recognition and ease, were not bad desires. I was just expecting them to come for me in the wrong time and place. I needed to shift my expectations.
It changed everything for me. I've gone through many things since then, even the achievement of one of my dreams (living in India) and the realization that even my dreams bring things that are much, much harder than I could ever have imagined. I've become a sojourner in the world in a deeper way than I ever was before.
The knowledge that a truer kind of home and a deep acceptance waits for me is what sustains me.
I'd even go so far as to say that the realization that I'd been looking at it all wrong sent me off on a different way of being entirely. It began a spiritual quest that I will be on all of my life.
I've learned about the journey of following Jesus. In living in India, I've seen a lot more of devotion than I had ever seen before. Following as a devotee is very similar to the way the disciples saw the master. They lived lives of listening, of leaving their own things and following. Following even though it meant sleeping in ditches sometimes, just wrapping yourself up in a sheet and laying your head on the grass. This was life for them.
It was not glamour or excitement. It was not fancy or spellbinding. It was feet in the dust, it ended in blood, it was devotion.
We are here in this broken world, and I'm telling you, life is life. No matter how golden a sheen people take on, or how smoothly their clothing drapes on their bodies, everyone is cleaning their ears out, or taking their daily trips to the water closet. We have to eat, we have to crash at night, we have to move our bowels. Those of us living adventurous lives know the pang of longing that the most simple, familiar smells can bring. Those of us at home know the longing for motion, for air on our necks. And we travel faster and faster, trying to gain what we're looking for, only to find that it's gone when we get there.
We won't find it. Not yet, anyways. Contentment comes when we see that this is not all that will ever be.
Tomorrow I'm going to talk some more on this, as well as review Tim Keller's newest book, King's Cross.