Recently I came across a journal I kept when I was a new believer and my children were toddlers. In those days, my husband and I were on our way out of farming, and I taught at the local public school. Mitzi, a fellow teacher—younger than I, but a lifelong Christian—had given me a blank book for Christmas. Its cover was a field of watercolor wildflowers in lavenders, pinks, greens, and Mitzi had labeled its first page "Blessing Book."
A prayer journal was a new idea for me, so perhaps I misunderstood Mitzi's intention. Or perhaps I understood it but objected to writing in a book with a cutesy cover (there was even a butterfly) or embracing the lingo of my evangelical acquaintances, who were forever reporting on the "blessings" and "ministries" and "stumbling blocks" of their "walk" and being "convicted" about this or that. To be honest, the entire Christian world in which I found myself as a new believer embarrassed me, despite my terrifying encounter with that passage in Luke where Jesus says if we're embarrassed to acknowledge him, then he'll disown us before the heavenly assembly (Luke 12:9).
In any case, I didn't use my blessing book to record blessings. Instead, I kept a detailed account of three weeks—disagreements with my husband, our money troubles as farmers, child-rearing difficulties, conflicts at school, night worries. Eleven entries just like those in the diaries I sporadically kept as a teenager, but with one change: I repeatedly compared the events of my days to what I was reading in the Bible. The entries were about as far from blessings as possible. Rather, they recounted struggles, worries, discord—doggedly accompanied by strangely naíve—sounding efforts to see meaning in my grievances. Or, more exactly, to see God's direct intervention in my everyday life.
In one entry, I recounted my boss's micromanagement of a program I administered as evidence of my unwillingness to submit to authority and found hope in the apostle Peter's promise that "the God of all grace" would "restore" me and make me "strong, firm, and steadfast" (1 Peter 5:10). The word restore literally meant "prepare," I noted, the same word used for mending holes in a net. In another entry, I considered how best to confront a co-worker's misbehavior in light of Paul's counsel to "restore"—the same word Peter used!—the person "gently" (Galatians 6:1). At the end of a long entry on one of those convoluted early-marriage fights my husband and I were having over potty-training issues, his mom's involvement in our day-to-day routine, and whether to get out of farming entirely, I blithely concluded, "I should want to do God's will in these issues. I still too desperately want God's will to be the same as mine."
Sadly, I'm no longer the confident, sweet-voiced believer who wrote those words. Reading my journal now, about ten years further along in faith, I'm galled to discover how much larger my faith was then than now. As a new believer, I saw God in even the smallest occurrence. I was intensely aware of his presence. I sought it, basked in it. I was eager for his input. Each of that journal's 11 entries bears witness to the guileless faith of a child, who knows no better than to expect God everywhere.
Before becoming a Christian, I found the notion of a "personal relationship with Jesus"—as Mitzi called it—off-putting.
"What is that, exactly?" I pressed my Christian friends. Even now, I challenge believers who use those words to define faith, "Where is that in the Bible?"
Over the years, though, I've come to regard the expression, so central to evangelical thought, as a reference to one's sense of God's presence—"personal" in that one recognizes God as intimately involved in one's daily life, and a "relationship" in that both God and believer invest emotion, action, and planning in maintaining it.
Ten years into faith, I've also come to regard such a personal relationship as more a dream than a reality. Daily I forget God's presence. I don't hear his promises continually spoken into my life. I no longer pray about cattle prices, grant proposals gone awry, or decisions about whether or not to give the girls Tylenol, but save my communication with the Father for larger, less immediate worries, such as my daughters' far-off futures. I neglect the opportunities in my daily struggles to acknowledge God's love and to love him back.
It shames me that God and I have lost our initial intimacy and rapport. I can rationalize the distance by considering that growth inevitably involves losing traits of childhood—dependence, openness, innocence, connectedness with one's parents—and that such losses are healthy and good. Some more honest part of me senses, though, that these losses are regrettable.
Growing in faith involves walking backwards. Turning—as Scripture calls the sinner to do—and toddling back to the child-faith I once had, that unembarrassed expectation of God's hands on my shoulders guiding me, clapping at my successes, clasping me when I fall.
So here's my prayer, this new year, just over a decade into faith. That God will restore the unsophisticated faith of my beginnings. That he will, in the words of Peter, mend my net.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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