Most of us want to be Good People. We tend to think that, just as a child grows from infancy to adulthood, everyone is at some stage of “growing up” toward maturity and greater independence.
A few months ago I posted something a friend of mine wrote where she mentioned a pastor who had committed suicide. Weeks later, another friend asked me about this- disturbed to consider a pastor doing such a horrible, desperate thing. Because of this idea we have that spiritual growth is a steep climb up a mountain made increasingly on your own, it is horrifying when someone “ahead” of us on the path gives up or slides dramatically backward.
We ask ourselves, “What is the point of my climbing if someone like that can fall?”
The bad news is that being a pastor or a missionary or a nun will not safeguard us from being Bad People, from getting depressed, from having broken relationships, from sin or from tragedy (a fact that is noticed easily by people who keep their distance from Christianity). Although we gain maturity and we learn lessons, we’re always light years away from being grown up…
The good news is that safeguarding from these things is not our real goal. Our goal is to be in a relationship with God today.
Yesterday I indulged by watching a marathon of tv show episodes. I felt pretty good about this since I’ve been super responsible for weeks and months now. A strange thing happens in my head when I loosen my belt. Since, even when the belt is tight, unacceptable behavior slips through, when I loosen it, the droopy faced Worrier comes out to prophesy of my imminent decline into Pajama’d Depression. Unshowered wine drinking and cookie eating for days, maybe even weeks. Maybe even the rest of my life, wherein I become the most horrible version of myself and all of my friends give up on me.
If you’re feeling a little worried for me right now just know that I’m barely scratching the surface with these confessions.
Also, there is an Upside.
So at about 4pm I decided to take a bath. I almost brought the laptop into the bathroom with me to continue watching tv, but my penchant for breaking inanimate objects and my inability to pay for repairs to a damaged laptop encouraged me to not indulge this far.
In the silence of washing myself the Worrier came out to predict the things I would be powerless to not do for the rest of the day. They weren’t things I particularly wanted to do, but the Worrier makes compelling and familiar arguments.
This is when God butted into my thoughts. I know it was him because he always says stuff that would never occur to me, but makes so much sense that it feels like something I secretly always knew.
“You don’t have to disappoint yourself.”
Sometimes it happens that I start to dig a hole for myself for some “fun” sin and while I chose to start digging, once I’m a few feet deep it stops being what I want because it begins to look like what it is; a grave. What usually happens when I realize I don’t want the hole I’ve chosen is that the Worrier comes out and tells me I’m the one who started it, and the only thing I deserve is to finish.
I’m grateful that this is a lie and that God is patient enough to remind me as often as I forget. He reminds me that Jesus didn’t just die so that I could go to heaven, but also so that I wouldn’t have to continue digging my ugly, shallow graves. No matter how deep I am in the throws of a mistake, I always have God’s hand waiting to help me climb out.
So how does this relate to that mountain of spiritual growth?
What I told my friend who was confused by the suicidal pastor was that there is no ladder to climb. Every day is a new opportunity to make good or bad choices. Just as, in the middle of sinning I am as close as a whisper to the ear of God, so in the midst of good work I am near the edge falling.
This teacher and author I sometimes listen to, Dan Baumann likes to talk about how his best times with Jesus have been in the last few days. I’ve listened to several podcasts from different times and he says this nearly every time.
To me this speaks of the beautiful and frightening reality that relationship with God is not a decision you make once at an ancient altar, but a daily discovery of the God who is eternally present.
If you lift weights on a regular basis, your muscles get stronger and more capable, but you don’t keep those muscles if you stop working out. In a sense, you’re never strong but always borrowing strength from the muscles that you pay attention to regularly. Similarly with God, I am never better at being a Good Person, but I borrow his goodness as long as I’m leaning on him.
It’s frightening because it means that your favorite spiritual giant is not immune to falling down (and therefore, neither are you) but it’s beautiful because it means that at whatever point you find yourself, Jesus is available to you. Several places in the Bible say outright that God is near to the humble, the broken. This state of brokenness and need is what it means to be alive, and admitting it allows God to show up and do his thing. The second any of us start to think we’ve “made it,” (essentially saying we’ve gained spiritual independence) is the second we begin to fall down again because we decide to stop humbly seeking God.
We do have a purpose and a destination, but it’s not about getting too strong to need help, it’s about learning to ask for and receive help. Like breathing in and breathing out.