The Messy, Beautiful Life with Christ
Submitted by Jennifer Power
Is there more to following Christ than knowing the Bible stories, the “right” answers to theological questions, and trying to be a good person? Is there more even than having a morning devotion, going to a weekly worship service, being a church volunteer, and giving away money?
I truly believe most of us know there is more to following Christ than this, but nevertheless, many of us live and teach our children as if this were the case. It is probably also true that most of us struggle to even do as much as this in our daily lives and in our homes, so to suggest there is more to being a disciple of Christ than these tasks may feel daunting and overwhelming. “How,” you might ask, “am I supposed to do more than this if I struggle to even do this much?”
That is an excellent question worth taking some time to explore.
Here is the good news: being a Christian is in many ways much simpler than knowing the answers and doing the right things. Being a follower of Christ is about reflecting Him into the world as His Holy Spirit transforms us more and more into His image. It is not a list of doctrines to learn or of rules to follow, behaviors to avoid, or a checklist to complete. It is about emptying ourselves in surrender and being filled by His grace and love. It is about being a part of His bigger picture and plan for the redemption of His creation. Certainly, learning is an essential and crucial part of the process, but it is not the end goal.
Perhaps to many, this all sounds too vague. In many ways, we often prefer our lists. Lists are easy to measure ourselves against. Even when we come up short, at least we know where we stand. And that is the not so good news. It is scary to step outside the known into the unknown. This is not to say the above-mentioned tasks are unimportant to our faith, more that they are insufficient to bring us into the life with God we are designed to live.
Several weeks ago, I discovered my personality type. I have often taken personality tests and have received a wide variety of results. It seems I am borderline for all four of the categories, and a recent test it told me they could not identify even one aspect of my personality. For all four categories I could be either one it seemed. I tend to over-think these tests because I respond differently in different situations. For example, I enjoy working with people and I enjoy working alone, and this can vary from day to day and from task to task. Recently, an honest and frank look at the four personality characteristics led me to realize I did have a leaning on all four of the categories. Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized some were more than just a slight leaning. For example, I am definitely a “thinker.” The simple fact that I overthink these tests proves that.
I always found “judging” verses “perceiving” to be a bit confusing until I realized it was a simple matter or whether or not a person is structured or unstructured. It finally occurred to me why I have struggled for so long to put myself into one category or another for this personality trait: I have always had a strong desire to be structured while in reality I am solidly unstructured in nature. I realized a certain amount of freedom when I discovered this truth about myself.
I actually function quite well as an unstructured person. For example, throughout my school experiences, I have excelled academically with very little structure. I always thought this was a bit odd as we are encouraged from a young age to be as structured as possible.
This has been likewise true with my faith and life with Christ. For years and years I have fought against myself to try and force structure into my relationship with Christ. Each and every failure has knocked me down and left me riddled with guilt. Despite my lack of structure, however, I have seen tremendous growth in my relationship with Christ from childhood to now. In my life, this is undeniable which begs an important question: Is the Christian faith really all about structure? For so long I have thought it was. I truly thought I must be highly structured in my faith in order to make any significant progress even while in reality I was actually making significant progress.
In short, the answer I have discovered is no, life with Christ is not all about structure. I will not deny that for many, structure is an important aspect of their faith development, but for even people who are structured by nature, structure is not the essence of faith. Even I have a degree of structure in my life and faith – it just does not fit the traditional mold. I am learning this is more than just okay. It is me. It is how God has created me to function and relate to Him. I have never had a strict structure with any of my relationships, so I do not know why I have always believed it must be so different with God.
I think it is time we step out of our “one size fits all” models of doing life with Christ. If we are to be the image-bearers of the living God, we must be true to the person He made each of us to be. We must seek Him wholly, each in our own unique ways. We must abandon ourselves desperately, each of us listening to the still small voice as He speaks to each of us in different ways. We must respond eagerly in obedience to the individual plans He has for us. This is how we effectively shine His light to the world and play our parts in redeeming God’s creation.
I am not suggesting some of us should give up crucial elements to the faith such as study, worship, sacrament, service, giving, prayer, fellowship, or any of the essential Christian disciplines, just that we should allow ourselves and one another the freedom to abandon ourselves fully to Christ without the constraints of our own unique experiences becoming new laws for everyone else. Certainly, life with Christ is messier and harder to define this way, but perhaps the best things in life are hard to define and messy – messy, but beautiful. The Bible itself teaches of many great mysteries in the life with Christ.
We who are parents or who teach the faith to younger generations must profoundly understand and live out this reality so we do not bind our children in harmful ways that stifle the life Christ has given each of them to life out for His glory. We must pay attention to what God is doing in our children, pay attention to their personality types, help them discover how God wired them, and teach them more than anything else about the God who so desperately loves them. Let us set our children free to play the music God has written for their lives.
May God bless your home as you seek Him. May His Holy Spirit lead you, teach you, and change you so that together our families can be the light set upon a hill which cannot be hidden.