Sunday, April 20, 2008

Just a closer walk

How many of us have a faith life that exists in a sterile environment? What I mean is, do we find ourselves "contaminated" on a regular basis or is our faith kept in an impenetrable, bullet-proof case where nothing can touch it? If we are accustomed to going to church, writing our check, singing some songs, listening and nodding while the minister preaches, and going home again, is that a vibrant faith? If I'm the only one who benefits from it, what is the point? I could just as easily stay at home and watch church on TV. If I never engage others or allow them to engage me beyond philosophical banter and religious pontification, what is the point?

One can be very earnest and faithful about praying, studying the Bible, attending church, serving on a committee, etc., but to what end? If the point of all of these activities is for me to grow in my faith and yet hoard that growth, isn't that just a little selfish?

We can either stand at a distance and watch or we can get in there and get dirty. I maintain there is no middle ground. I also maintain that once you choose to get dirty and jump into the mud pit, it becomes increasingly difficult to get back out again. There's just no returning to the sterile life after that.

"The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves..." (Mark 6:30-32)

Jesus understood the weariness the apostles were feeling. They were exuberant and on fire about all they had seen and done. But the adrenaline starts to wear off. The stress to their system that they endured without even realizing it begins to come to the surface, screaming to be attended to. And so they go off to a lonely place to regroup.

Here is my question, though, how do they talk themselves into putting it out there again and again and again, knowing the inevitable wear and tear that awaits them? And yet, at the same time, how do they NOT put themselves out there?

If you have come to the realization that you are called to serve God in a specific manner, if you feel as if you cannot possibly imagine living any other way, and yet feel the wear and tear to the point that you almost simultaneously beg to be relieved of the duty, how do you reconcile these competing emotions and sensations?

I believe some would refer to this struggle as compassion fatigue; when we know there is no other way that we can live, and yet we are worn down, with no relief in sight.

Maxie Dunnam suggests that, "The closer we walk with the Lord, the more our eyes are opened, and the more we see the loneliness and pain, the quiet desperation of people around us, reaching out -- hoping that someone will see, hear and then stop and listen and touch. The closer we walk with the Lord, the more tender our hearts become, and we cry within when need goes unmet." (Coping as Christians, p 137)

I understand that I am limited and finite.

I understand that there is only so much I can do. That I must leave the rest to God and others.

But I can't turn off what I feel. I'm struggling to define benchmarks so that I can assure myself I am being faithful to God's calling. I struggle to cope with feelings of, "Just a drop in the bucket." No matter how many women I meet every week, connect with every week, talk to every week, pray for every week, they keep coming, hurting, broken, devastated, hopeless. They keep coming. And I am entirely powerless.

"...Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." (Mark 6:33-34)

Surely Jesus dealt constantly with that feeling of, "Where do they keep coming from?" It seems we must come to terms with the fact that it will always be like this. There will always be more to do. It will always be challenging. It will always stretch us. It will always exhaust us. Every week will not always be a mountain top experience.

But ... we will not break. We will not break. We will not break.

Perhaps that is the key. There is no simple, tidy, all-encompassing solution. Even when I lie in bed at night, pull the covers up around my head and pray, "I'm not sure I can keep doing this...," I know that I must. I can't turn back. It is in me now, I have sold myself out completely to Jesus Christ, yet the weight of it frightens me sometimes.

The solution is not abandoning what God has given me; the very thing I prayed for, for goodness sake! In fact, I'm convinced I would be miserable if I did. The solution is simply pushing on, one day at a time, trusting God, trusting God, trusting God. Every Wednesday, I walk into the facility where I teach and 9 times out of 10, I pray inwardly, "OK, God, you're on." 10 times out of 10, he delivers.

I'm not really tired of caring. I'm not really tired of loving. I know I can't live with myself unless I am serving God in the manner that I am right now; at least for now, this is what he has for me.

This is what he has for me; and I'm glad for it.

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