I expected a lot out of 2019. I expected that God was going to make some declarations and give some vision and direction for my future. I expected healing. I expected that God would honor my sacrifice by moving me someplace better, bringing good from my pain. After all, we’ve heard it said,
“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God (William Carrey).”
“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s provision (Hudson Taylor).”
I looked into graduate degrees that would give me opportunity to attempt great things for God. Intercultural Studies, Master’s in Social Work, Doctorate in Psychology were my leanings and I was even accepted into programs and encouraged into others. I could envision myself working alongside refugees or trauma survivors, bringing hope and healing, or even as a writer, sharing writing words that inspire others in faith, bringing clarity where there is none. But each path I started pursuing was blocked, bringing me to an impasse.
In 2019 I’ve had no lack of attempting great things for God, yet 2019 did not hold any great things from God. There has been no breakthrough moment, no relief from the weight, no energy to keep pushing forward in pursuit of being God’s hands and feet. It’s been a year of further defeat and questions that have had no satisfaction, leaving me stranded.
As I’ve contemplated pilgrimage this week, I’ve thought of places like Mecca, the Wailing Wall in Israel, Vatican City, and Wittenberg, Germany. All of these places hold significance because they connect people to the beginning, to the foundation of faith. These places pull people out of their current state and transfer them back, in a tangible way, to a time when faith was just beginning.
I find I am also on a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage to find my faith again, to seek its foundation and find out its flaws. If what I have believed is true, then I am either an awful person or God is an awful God bent on hurting me. Neither of those options lend themselves to a content and faith filled life, instead they lean me into nihilism which only leads to harm. Because, if God is not good and I am not valuable, then where can meaning be found?
It’s a disconcerting place to be, asking questions that I thought I had already answered. Questions like, ‘what is sin?’, ’who is God?’, and ‘why was I created?’ Even going so far as to question the spirituality of cross-cultural ministry and questioning whether forgiveness can be offered if no one asks to receive it.
Henry Nouwen, in his book The Way of the Heart, suggests that, “There is seldom a period (in life) in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord.”
You know, the Jewish Temple was razed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. It was burned to the ground and it is said that the fire was so hot that it melted all the precious gold and silver within the temple. The melted metals seeped into the cracks within the foundation, compelling the soldiers to break the foundation apart, taking the gold and silver with them. Leaving the temple completely desolate.
My faith is like that temple. It has been burned up and the heat has destroyed many of my precious theological ideals. The truth is still there, seeped into the foundation’s cracks but the only way to pull the truth out is to break the foundation apart. I have to desolate my faith and reanalyze all of my assumed “musts” and “oughts” in order to find the good news of Christ Jesus again. Because, at the moment, it isn’t clear to me what is true and what is religion.
Therefore, I will call myself a pilgrim because I am a true traveler, on her way to a holy place. I do not yet know where that place will be, because this holy place is not going to be a literal location. It will be a place within my own soul. A place that both God and I reside. I am nervous at the prospect and yet there is peace in me as well. What a strange juxtaposition it is, to be afraid and yet at peace, without the frantic restlessness that comes from attempting great things for God.
As this new decade dawns, I hope to find new faith and I pray the same for you. May we find hidden treasures beneath the broken and burned foundation of an old faith that could no longer hold up against the harsh fires of reality. While it may feel like a regression of faith, I am hopeful that it will prove to be progression, that I can join with the generations of pilgrims before me who have already walked this path and have found God in the process.
Do you get caught up in the musts and oughts of life? Do you believe that cross-cultural ministry is one of those oughts or musts?
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