Monthly Archives: May 2012

Don’t Change the World

Don't Change the World: Why you don't have to worry about making a difference

“All that is not the love of God has no meaning for me…If God wants it to, my life will be useful through my word and witness. If He wants it to, my life will bear fruit through my prayers and sacrifices. But the usefulness of my life is His concern, not mine. It would be indecent of me to worry about that.”

~ Brother Dominique Voillaume as quoted by Brennan Manning, All is Grace

It is the second and final night of the convention, and the room is lit fluorescent. The smoke machine is pumping, and the battle-cry is “Go!” because The Lost circle the earth and there are places where the name of Jesus is not known.

The music swells, the call is made, and you are suddenly clutching a 25-page, full-color Missions Trip Guide for the summer of 1998. A girl in an official conference t-shirt has grabbed you by the hands and is praying wildly over you, her brow sweaty, her eyebrows furrowed.

In the worship choruses that follow, you are vowing to be a Worldchanger. You are carried by the crescendos, hands lifted high above your head, asking to be used, asking for revival.

There has been a lot of talk these last few days about mediocrity. About settling. About being luke-warm, and you are learning to fear it all. You are learning to fear smallness and the suburbs.

At 15, you haven’t yet tasted alcohol, but you are drunk on all this passion. Your walk with God has taken on the wobbling, lurching quality of the intoxicated. You raise your arms higher, feel a wild hope rise in your heart, promise God that if he’ll let you, you’ll change the world for Him.

*

At 28, my life feels very small.

Most days, I stay within a ten-mile radius of our suburban home, orbiting the boundaries of our world: Target. Aldi. Our best friends’ house, with its wide-open backyard.

That battles I fight daily are small ones, not for souls but for just one bite of peas. I believe that the work of Christ involves standing between the oppressor and the oppressed, but the truth of it is that most days it’s all I can do to stand between the one-year-old and his big brother, who is trying to beat him with a matchbox car.

I know well that I have just this one beautiful life on earth and that the days are disappearing fast beneath me. I know this ache to make it mean something, to set the world ablaze.

But I am putting away the laundry now. I am asking him again if he needs to go potty. I am cutting up strawberries, picking up toys, scrawling in my notebook, and it all feels so small.

*

There has been a shift in the Christian culture and I feel it like a fresh breeze. Our collective consciousness seems to have awakened to the reality of injustice. We are learning that we cannot preach the Living Water without also building wells; that Good News to the starving includes both the Bread of Life and actual, physical loaves.

I love the ways people and organizations and ministries are orienting themselves toward clean water and holistic healing and making the world better.

I will admit that I sobbed through the Kony 2012 video. All those children. All those signs. A generation coming together to change the world.

But then, there it is again. That quest for bigness. I feel it in my heart in the same way I felt it as a 15-year-old. It is intoxicating and heady and I am impassioned to do something great. Start an organization. Raise a million dollars. Change. The. World.

And then the kids wake up from their naps, crankier than satan, and the dinner has to be made and I feel the smallness close in on me again.

*

This quote from Brother Dominique stopped me entirely when I read it. The usefulness of my life is His concern, not mine.

It speaks to the 15-year-old girl in me who learned that my life was wasted unless God used me in some world-changing way. It speaks to the 28-year-old woman who spends a lot of time rewashing the dishes that the dishwasher left crusty.

As it turns out, my responsibility is not to change the world. It is to lean into the wild love of God. To be moved by it. To crawl into its bigness and find myself different there.

Whether the things I do change the world is not my concern. My work is to let my heart expand in that holy, mysterious love so that when I meet the orphan or the widow or my neighbor or brother or enemy, I have something to give them.

God’s love is place and power and hope and healing, and it has changed the world before. It will change it again. It will change the world every day of my small, big life.

Prayer Request

Prayer Request: A need or situation brought to the attention of a group of Christians so that they may pray for God’s intervention.

I am an expert at making it sound spiritual.

I have learned to wield words, to stack them around myself like a fortress. I know how to paint it so that my own failures are besides the point. The point is, of course, that jaw-dropping thing that he did. That asinine thing that she said. The way they hurt me.

The trick is to place all kinds of spiritual modifiers around it, the simplest being Please pray for [insert name] because [insert perceived failure here].

There is a way to pack so many words around a sharp fragment of gossip that I can convince myself that it’s not judgment but insight. Holiness. Some form of love.

I might say, I know she’s just living from her brokenness, but…. I might say, I’m feeling wounded because… I’ll probably try to work in grace somehow. I need grace to love [insert name of particularly tricky person here, plus each and every sordid detail of the story.]

What I’m really saying of course is, it’s not my fault. Something has happened that’s left me feeling slapped across the cheek, and instead of turning the other one, I am wandering around, showing the mark to anyone who will take the time to look. See what they did?

I am not talking here of the deep wounds, of the secrets we keep, of the stories we need to tell to be made whole. There are times when the details are necessary, times when the guilty parties need to be named.

I’m talking about something different – those daily, unavoidable ways that we fail each other. I’m talking about the times when I’m pent up with pain and anger and I’m venting for the catharsis of it, for the justice of it, for the sympathetic nods and dropped jaws around the prayer circle.

And I know how to make it sound righteous. I phrase the request just right so that they rally around my anger, and I feel lifted, carried by their empathy. But after the porch light is turned off and the plates have been cleared, I am left alone with my own heart, stripped bare like winter branches.

Gossip is a kind of loneliness. Well-dressed as it may be, justified as it may feel, it never leads to healing. We are healed only when we reveal our own dark hearts to one another, our own failures, our own ugliness. We join hands, our love for each other joined to the infinite love of God, and it becomes a kind of river. All of our empty, broken places are covered by it.

The best model for group prayer that I have seen comes from Discover the Life, a reader for small groups by Neal and Judy Brower. Theirs is a call to honesty without advice or judgment. Rather than buffering our failures with the rotten circumstances, the jaw-dropping details, we keep it basic. Not I am angry because…; simply I am angry. Will you pray for me?

There is something beautiful to me in this idea of stripped-down story, cutting through the causes to the deepest, hardest truth. There is something organic about coming around one another’s emptiness not to fix it, but to cover it, and I want to know that kind of healing, that kind of love.

I have been around the evangelical world a long time. I know all the best words. I am an expert in making it sound spiritual, in saying it just right.

Now I want to learn the quiet courage of saying it true.

Organic Christianity

Organic Christianity: A fluid term used to describe a new movement among Christians away from “programs” and toward more simple, natural methods of ministry. The focus is less on institutional maintenance, more on people and mission.

Since we’re being honest, I suppose I’ll tell you that I love Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. And not even just the regular kind – I love the marketing-ploy kind with the Cars– or SpongeBob-shaped pasta. It’s something about the noodle-to-pretend-cheese ratio.

I know that nothing good can come of powdered cheese that is electric orange. I know that it’s not so much pasta as “enriched macaroni product,” but this does not seem to stop me. Neither of my kids will eat it, and still I pick up a box or two. For me.

I love the idea of a hearty loaf of seed bread, of whole wheat flour, of flax seed and whole grains. But given the choice, I will always pick the white, fluffy stuff: golden crusts and the smoothness of all that refined flour.

I try to keep my Diet Coke intake to one can a day, but I’ve been known to drink as many as three. (Okay, four.)

But every year around this time, the stores fill up with seeds and trowels and the soil is rich and black. The farmers’ markets begin opening up, wooden stands set up in parking lots, pick-up trucks filled with vegetables on the sides of roads. And it’s so colorful and beautiful that I almost want to give up my Kraft and Diet Coke and live exclusively on home-grown lettuce and root vegetables.

I never get inspired enough to dig an actual vegetable patch, but every year I buy a tomato plant from outside Festival Foods. I make infrequent trips to the Tuesday afternoon Andover farmers’ market so I can buy bundles of fresh herbs to make my own bruschetta.

And when I think about how I want it to be with God, with faith, with people, organic feels like the right word. Like rain and earth and slow, natural growth. When I think Bread of Life, I think hearty, grainy, fill-you-all-the-way-up kind of bread. I think of fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes and homemade salsa and peppers still dirty from the soil.

To me, organic faith looks less like a tidy, three-minute testimony and more like seeds strewn across so much time. It is less about inviting my neighbor to church, more about inviting her over for coffee. It’s not really about sending my kids off to Sunday School class, but rather standing with them in the rain as it falls, telling them, God is here! He’s giving the plants a drink of water. Isn’t that cool?

It is watching, tending, tireless. It looks for the needs, the holes, the pain and it goes to those places with baskets of muffins, offers of babysitting, long telephone conversations. It grows up naturally, quietly, this kind of faith, and brings life and color and beauty to the world.

Of course, it’s never as simple as all that, and somewhere in my life, I got used to pretend, fluorescent-orange-powder cheese instead of the real stuff. I got used to the ease of it, the taste of it, learned to crave what is not good for me.

Somewhere I learned to serve a white-bread God, refined by platitude and cliché and stunted language. A preservative-filled God, concocted by food-scientists somewhere, filled with little “extra” things to make him go down easier.

But it’s May now, and from the front window, I can see my neighbors working in their yard. Her garden is expansive, her vegetables award-winning. They will hand us the excess of their harvest when we cross the street to get our mail. I will take the zucchini and cut it up, stir fry it with carrots and peppers. I will choose it, one night, instead of frozen pizza.

Slowly, slowly, I am learning to love what is good for me. To let go of what’s not. Today, the honey wheat instead of the white bread. Today, more listening, less talking. More questions, less answers. The hard, quiet work of real love. And grace over all of it like so much rain.

To Go Deep

To go deep: To get to a place of spiritual and emotional transparency with a group. “Going deep” is often characterized by new and life-changing interactions with the Bible and with each other that result in feelings of deep friendship and intimacy.

“I thought it would be different by now,” she tells me as we drive. We are talking about our small group, which is on a bit of an unplanned hiatus while we regroup for summer. She shifts in her seat, sticks her fingers out of the cracked window.

The day is fading pink around us and the fields are glowing with it. Sometimes I forget how close we are to country. This suburb I live in is sort of a border-town, the far end suburban sprawl. Go a few miles north, and developments fade into fields and woods and strange little grocery stores with faded signs.

“I don’t know,” she says after a long pause. “It’s been three years. I thought we’d be at a place by now where we could go deep,” and I recognize in her phrase my own vague desires. I too have longed for this nameless place where suddenly, things change, suddenly, you are safe.

We sit cross-legged on someone’s living room carpet week after week, Bibles in our laps, and it seems like all the ingredients are there. Scripture is spoken into the room, and you’d think that it would work like a key, unlocking our deepest selves.

I once believed that to learn these soul-truths together, in a small circle of believers, would be like diving to the bottom of the lake. I imagined it would feel like water, thought that I’d be surrounded by it, suspended and weightless and held.

For me, this has been one of the hardest parts of faith: how often I am beached in the shallows of church life and Christian-talk, how utterly dried out I feel sometimes. We gather, we talk, we tell our stories, and still, deep is a place that we can’t seem to find, a world hidden somewhere beneath us.

But then I think about this group of women.

We have emerged, piecemeal, from this church. We are so different, like the five points of a star, connected by thin, fragile lines, by mystery and Light.

We trickle into each other’s homes, still carrying all the weight of the day on our shoulders, and it’s easy to feel like we’re missing it in all of this talk of children and housework and Pinterest. At face value, this looks like the shallows, the verses we read, the study we follow, the way our answers fall awkwardly onto the floor.

But of course, that’s not true, because all of it matters. The complex and the simple, the beautiful and the mundane, the thrilling and the commonplace – all of it is connected. Each loose thread pulls at the deep truths of our hearts.

And maybe deep is less of a place we get to than a way we choose see each other. A kind of intent listening. A way into love.

I’m starting to believe that knowing each other’s darkest secrets is not, in fact, what makes us deep. It’s being faithful with the details we do know, choosing to believe that the little things are the big things. It’s holding carefully the pieces of one another’s lives in the open palms of our hands.

It’s not Biblical knowledge or understanding the word in it’s original Greek. The right study will not get us there, the right format will not do it. It’s not information that heals us of our deepest hurts, it’s love. And love is always a choice.

It is all so close. We are driving, and everything is overlapping, the borders blurred. One moment a Target store, and then, suddenly, cows tucked into a hillside. It’s country and suburb, field and city, quiet and loud, deep lakes, wide fields, and all of it matters.

Look closer. Every blade of grass is charged with holy light.

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