I’ve never been a particularly good Christian, if I’m being honest.
I always wanted to be. I watched other people do it and it seemed to come really naturally to them — giving, serving, offering compassion to those who didn’t deserve it, memorizing Bible verses, that sort of thing. Grace and peace and love seemed to fill them up from the inside out and run over the top of them spilling all over those around them. I wanted to be like them but, honestly, felt like it probably wasn’t worth the effort.
I must not be like them.
Then, something happened.
I found this church. I know lots of people have bad stories about church, about how it’s hurt them or wrecked them. But this is not a church story like that. This church didn’t ruin anything. They embraced me, pulled me in, made me believe the most radical notion I could imagine — that I was loved beyond measure and was not a mistake.
I unfolded in that place. Surrounded by hundreds of people who loved God, I surrendered to the idea I was not different from them, that that we were all equally and beautiful loved and created by Him.
I started doing what they did. I read my Bible in the mornings and started to memorize and learn. I went to church as many times a week as possible. My daily habits changed. If you were watching, you would have seen a dramatic shift. You would have seen me break addictions, take better care of myself, solidify my theology and start to understand and hear the voice of God in my life.
But what you wouldn’t have seen was the way I was taking all of this new input out of context. It wasn’t the church’s fault. It was mine.
Becoming a good Christian was making me a bad person.
Becoming a good Christian made me a bad listener. Where I used to be unsure of myself and my ideas about the world, I suddenly felt like I had a platform, a right, even an obligation to share my ideas with everyone. I was a child of God, after all, and the vision was becoming clearer day by day. There was a sense of urgency to communicate truth before we “ran out” of time.
Instead of listening to people and their stories, I ran right over the top of them. I took my words and ideas and even my intellect and used it like a blunt object I could smack over the top of their heads. God had given me the authority, I assumed, now that I was a part of his club. I thought I was doing everyone a favor.
What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t my responsibility to save anyone.
I couldn’t even save myself.
At the same time being a good Christian made me feel confident in my ideas, it made me feel insecure in my feelings. If what I felt didn’t line up with God’s truth, or the way a Christian was “supposed” to feel, I assumed there was no value in it, and worried if I was honest about what I felt, everyone would see what I’d been worried about all along — I was a fraud. I didn’t belong.
So I learned to keep my mouth shut. I kept feelings to myself and, because feelings were so powerful, avoided anything that made me feel too much. I segregated and separated myself from movies, TV shows, friendships and social events under the guise I was “in the world but not of it.” I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.
What I didn’t realize was God never asked me to become a good Christian.
He asked me to become more like Him.
Here’s the thing about becoming like God. He is diverse and multi-faceted. He is integrated and whimsical. He is graceful and just. He is smart and playful. He is full of wrath and radically forgives. He is joyful and yet grieves over injustice. He is not either/or. He is both/and. When it comes to becoming like Him, there is no formula we can follow.
In fact, becoming like Him, as far as I’m concerned, is a little bit like becoming more like us. I was right to assume that I was equally loved and accepted by God, but wrong to assume I was no different than other Christians.
Of course I was different. People are different.
Something goes wrong when we all try to become like each other. We force ourselves into roles we were never designed to play, exhaust ourselves trying to coax other people to our side. It’s stupid. At the end of the day, if you leave your side, or I leave mine, we lose the beauty and the balance that is this concentric circle — this holistic picture and reflection of God’s light.
Donald Miller says, “Without diversity we can’t grow,” and I think he’s right.
When we try to be the same we get stuck, stunted. We don’t grow up.
My spiritual life won’t like yours. It shouldn’t. It’s not supposed to. And if I try to make it like yours, I’ll miss what I was supposed to see all along — the image of God himself, the balancing point, the center of the circle, what we create when we all stand together and lean into it — listening to stories that aren’t like ours, practicing different disciplines, fixating on Him even in changing cultures and seasons —
God’s image. God’s artwork.
[Photo: brlnpics123, Creative Commons]