In It Not of It

Confession: I have lived the majority of my life on a pedestal. It was the pedestal of all pedestals as, even in Christian circles, I had the reputation of being the Good Girl. The girl every God-fearing mother (and probably some perfectly heathen mothers too, for that matter) wanted their daughter to be.

I didn’t set out to be that girl, and I was always uncomfortable when anyone compared their children to me, but I was that girl, regardless.

What can I say? It is not in my nature to be rebellious. I guess I hate disappointing people too much. Goody-Two-Shoes is a title that comes all too easily to me. I’m sorry, okay?

But I don’t like the pedestal; it’s lonely up there.

So I decided to come down. And in the clumsy, fumbling, painful exercise of dethroning myself, I learned something that completely shattered my worldview.

If you grew up in church culture, you have probably heard ten thousand times that Christians are called to be in this world, but not of it. Right now, you’re probably thinking of that one family you know who have taken that statement and resolved to live it to the extreme.

What I’m realizing as I ponder the current state of my life is that we put too much focus on the latter part of that directive. After all, we’re already in the world, so how do we make ourselves “not of it”?

But are we in the world? Are we really, truly in the world as Jesus intended us to be?

I may be a citizen of earth—I may be a natural born resident of the U.S. of A.—but what I realized just this week is that I have never mastered the art of being in this world; I have only managed to perfect the religion of Be Not of It.

In her book, Interrupted, Jen Hatmaker reflects on her youth with this statement:

“I spent most of my time trying to ‘be separate’ (2 Corinthians 6:17), but what with all my arrogance and judgement, I’m not sure that was a tall order. I feared culture and the people in it, certain that my proximity to them would pave the road to perdition.”

I, too, used to be that girl. Thanks to the grace of God and the wilderness I have wandered this past year, I am her no longer.

Sometimes it scares me how easily I let that girl go. Sometimes I’m aware a part of her still lingers, nagging in the back of my mind that I have blurred the line between conviction and compromise.

I wish I could tell her for certain she is wrong. That all her fears are for naught. That in my descent into the heart of this world I have managed to remain entirely “not of it.”

But I can’t make that guarantee, because the line is harder to draw than one might think. And maybe I’m stupid to take a stroll into the darkness. Maybe this tumble from my pedestal is going to be the death of me.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m finally learning how to be in the world the way Jesus was.

It’s Raining Gumballs, Hallelujah

My friend asked me if I had ever read anything by Jen Hatmaker the day before her book, Interrupted, arrived on my doorstep.

Coincidence? I think not!

Anyway, I had only made it halfway through Chapter One when I was slapped in the face with this glorious piece of honesty:

“I am still stunned by my capacity to spin Scripture, see what I wanted, ignore what I didn’t, and use the Word to defend my life rather than define it.”

So much conviction packed into that one sentence. We humans are astounding in our treachery, no? We read the Bible with our blinders on, seeing only what we are looking to find instead of opening our hearts to what God might want to say to us.

It reminds me of the movie Bedtime Stories, where the stories Adam Sandler tells his niece and nephew become his reality for the following day. After surviving a hailstorm of gumballs, Uncle Skeeter gets a bright idea: He is going to tell stories that have the potential to make his life considerably better.

But there’s a twist Skeeter hasn’t caught onto despite the raining gumballs. Only the details the children add to the story come true. And the kids unknowingly create some pretty interesting scenarios for their poor Uncle Skeeter.

I never thought I would find myself saying I relate with Adam Sandler, but in this case, I do. Here I am, weaving a story for myself, trying to spin life to my own favor, when God shakes things up with a few added details. Next thing I know, I’m just going about my day, trying to catch a break… when suddenly I get kicked by an angry dwarf.

Oh, come on, God! Are you serious? What was that?

The irony of Bedtime Stories is that the kids ultimately create an even better ending than Skeeter had in mind for himself. I guess I can only trust that God has a better ending for me than the one I would create with my two, flawed hands.

Because I’ve searched the Bible regarding certain situations before, looking for loopholes and hoping to spin the Word in my favor. (The Bible can be pretty vague at times.)

Then I realized I was doing exactly what Jen Hatmaker explained in Interrupted.

I was using the Word to defend my life rather than define it.

But God was still winning because, try as I may to write my own ending, God had other plans. Better plans. And I never had as much control as I let myself believe I did.

Yes, I’ve been spinning my stories, but only the details God approved came to pass. And those details have made for some pretty interesting adventures.

I wouldn’t trade this journey for the life I thought I wanted. I have been wrong too many times about the things I thought would bring me joy. No, sir, God is doing just fine as director of this little mess called life.

So instead of trying to defend the story I’ve crafted in my own imagination, I’m going to let my life be redefined by the Master Storyteller—the One who believes in magical things like raining gumballs.