For months now I've been wondering what my life would really look like if I was truly determined to give up anything to follow Jesus.
For the record, I am not currently giving up much of significance and I'm not following Jesus with abandon. Part of me prays, "Lord, make me willing to do whatever you ask." And another part says, "Umm... Please, please don't ask me to sacrifice too much."
I know I've mentioned Shane Claibourne's books before, but I'm gonna do it again. I read The Irresistible Revolution and Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers just at a particular time in my life when I started to realize that I was waiting for God to reveal some bigger master plan. You remember that "God has a plan for your life" line? Where was the Plan for My Life? I was waiting for more purpose, some passion that would stir my heart for God's kingdom, some task that would make me say, "Ah-ha! Here is how I will make my life significant!" But... nothing really came up.
I read somewhere a message from a missionary saying, "What do you want to be doing when Jesus returns? Are you doing that right now? You should be!" At first I was a little annoyed because, what? What am I supposed to want to be doing? Like Jesus can't see me at all right now? Like I could just try to look busy when He shows up?
Then a little panic... What am I supposed to be doing? Loving my neighbor, yeah, but what is that supposed to look like, exactly?
Then annoyed again... Hey, what does Jesus expect? Does he not expect there to be people who are going to their jobs every day, wanting to be kind and generous, trying to make wise decisions, doing their best to raise their kids and love their partners, driving the kids to sports practice, making dinner every night, or laughing at something funny on TV? What's wrong with that kind of life? Is it not good enough?
Then embarrassed... Dude, I am pretty comfortable with my lukewarm life. I really sort of like it. I wish I had more passion for a cause, I wish I could hear God more, but I don't. And I can't manufacture some magnificent spiritual life.
I've tried. Did you know that? After umpteen years of trying, and sometimes feeling like maybeI really did love Jesus, I got kind of mad. I was doing everything right! Wasn't I supposed to sense God with me at every moment, wasn't I supposed to feel the Holy Spirit's direction, wasn't Jesus supposed to be my constant gentle teacher? Hmmm, wasn't happening.
So then I went through a period of probably five years of being pissed off that all my effort apparently wasn't enough. I was pretty sure anyone who said she could hear God's voice was making it up. (Actually, I'm still extremely skeptical when people say they know what God's will is. My observation is that most of the time God's will seems to line right up with whatever it was they wanted to do anyway. Convenient!) I'll call that my Calvinist Phase. Now I find I object to some things about Calvinism (and find many Calvinists to be annoying at best and arrogant at worst). But something that does remain is that it's clear that I cannot desire God all by myself. I cannot even want to desire God. Maybe other people can and that's great, but I can't. So I don't know exactly when, but eventually I started tentatively praying, without a whole lot of conviction, telling Jesus that if we were going to have any kind of a relationship he was going to have to do ALL the work.
Theologically I believe that Jesus had already done all the work to make it possible to know him. But emotionally I had never felt that the whole Personal Relationship with Jesus thing had ever really worked for me.
Now, I'll tell you right here that I still really don't feel like I have any kind of closeness with Jesus.
A woman who was in a small group with us once told me, "I used to think sometimes that I heard Jesus whispering to me from a distance. Now, I can feel his breath on my cheek." Normally I would think anyone who said such a thing was just nuts if I didn't actually know her and how not-crazy she is.
I don't experience anything like that. Here is a complete list of my spiritual accomplishments for the last five years or so (prepare to be wholly unimpressed):
1. I pray more naturally. Sort of like Anne Lamott says, mostly prayers of "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Nothing beautiful. But now I feel like probably, sometimes definitely, I am being heard.
2. I see people who are trying to be like Jesus living radical, revolutionary, counter-cultural lives and I want That. I don't claim to have made any progress, but if I'm going to follow Jesus I want to follow the real Jesus, the one who loves people when it doesn't make any sense to love them, when love seems impossible and hopeless, even dangerous. I do not really understand what that might look like in my life, but I do want to be more like the real Jesus.
It's kind of odd, but often I feel like a brand new Christian with very little spiritual maturity. But I grew up in the church (granted, it was the rural mid-western republican white version), and I have a decent familiarity with the Bible and some experience with basic Christian theology. I know all the lingo! I went to AWANA! I went to a campfire-singing summer camp! Wait, am I sounding bitter now? You see with the lack of maturity?
Huh, this turned into practically a testimony! Those are supposed to end with "And now everything is wonderful and Jesus is my best friend!" Well, that's not going to happen here. I'm actually kind of nervous to even declare any desire to be like Jesus because I'm quite certain I'll fail spectacularly. Down the road I'll be looking very much like me and very little like Jesus and someone will remind me, "Ha! I thought you said you wanted to live a radical revolutionary counter-cultural life!"
Right now I don't know... oh, anything really... Some days I don't even believe that God could really love me, that my life could even have the potential for infinite significance, or that I could ever be a person who loves like Jesus. So I'm still just praying "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you" a lot.