These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught
Matt did a great job of networking while in college and throughout his career, so it’s not uncommon for him to get job offers throughout the year. In fact, the job he has now was a random out of the blue offer from someone who saw his resume on Linkdin.
Since we’re both never say never kind of people, and maybe pathetically stereotypical millennials who always like to have options on the table, we talk a lot and pro and con whenever a career change possibility presents itself. In it we pro and con salary, lifestyle, living expenses, etc. Of course, it’s a given that we include God’s will, and eagerly look for his blessing on the situation and seek what he wants for us.
And I think it is true that we do truly want to do what God wants for us. But lately, increasingly over the past two years in particular, I’ve been overcome by a feeling of restlessness and even boredom. The more I read my bible diligently, the more and more I see just how off our priorities are, even when our intent is right.
For instance, whenever we’re presented with a job possibility, or even the job that Matt currently has, we thank God for providing for our family, for the things we’ve been blessed with and, if I’m being honest with myself, the statuses we’ve achieved. I don’t once thank him for the ability to serve others, or giving us more so we can give more in return, or providing us with physical things that can be of benefit for others.
I’ve noticed that even in our prayers we put our agenda on Jesus, as if his priority is providing the American Dream for us. Because I'm pretty sure the bible talks about how Jesus wants all who love him to achieve the house, the car, the career, and the 401k, right? Isn't that his first priority for us?
We pray for financial security, for fulfilling careers, for opportunity for success, or for new and better things. But as continue to pour into scripture, I notice less of God’s promises or desires for our success and more for his desire for us to serve others, love others, worship him in our actions.
Are we really praying for his will to be done, or our own?
“Are his [Jesus] priorities really ours?
The suburban Jesus would never be so offensive as to demand that we do what he says: he is more interested in the security, comfort and prosperity of his followers. In short, much of the message of American Christianity resents Jesus as the purveyor of the American Dream…
Perhaps the church has been lulled into complacency by years of the very things we point to as proofs of God’s blessings upon America: religious freedom and material abundance. We have never really embraced the message and movement of Jesus Christ as a call to revolution. Instead, we have gotten comfortable with a watered-down, whitewashed, religiously safe version of him. ”
-Mike Erre, The Jesus of Suburbia
I have a gut wrenching feeling that we’ve been praying the wrong prayers and asking the wrong questions, and therein lies the root of the problem. That is why I’ve been discontent and restless, because we were created for more than ourselves.
I have a love/hate relationship with living in Tahoe. I love living here, but it’s like an island I feel a need to escape once in a while, an urge to get out of the “Tahoe Bubble.” Mention it to anyone who lives here and they’ll nod their head in agreement. It’s an absurd thought on one hand; within minutes of our own backdoor, steps outside our front porch there lies an endless amount of everything people dream of during their 9-5 day to day routine. In the winter there’s endless snowboarding, skiing, snowshoing, etc. while the summer months promise endless days of whitewater rafting, boating, swimming, hiking, camping, etc.
Paradise nonwithstanding, I still find myself planning weekend trips away and dreaming of anywhere but here. So Matt and I satisfy the longing and quiet the internal discontentment with weekends away, playing tourists and filling ourselves with distraction. And it quiets the dissatisfaction for a while, but it’s kind of like eating a snack when what you really want is a feast. In the end, it’s treating the symptoms without curing the problem, or even addressing or just acknowledging the actual problem.
And the problem? I think C.S. Lewis said it best when he said, “We are far too easily pleased.”
Matt and I have been settling. We’ve been settling and been too easily pleased with living for ourselves and the American Dream rather than God’s actual will. We’ve confused our priorities as his, and situational circumstances as the end all-purpose rather than a means to the end.
Owning a home, for instance. A classic symbol of the American Dream, right? Check that box; we’ve got the house. But maybe that’s the means to an end, not the end goal. Maybe we use our house to shelter others and open doors for everyone in Christ’s name, not just our family or close friends.
Maybe our discontentment would be satisfied not with physical moves of a new job or new vacations but a shift in perspective.
Our lives here are very tame. They’re comfortable. Our church is a wonderful example of this. We love our church. Seriously, the people and community there are just amazing and have completely refueled our fire, recharged us and supported us in every aspect of life. It’s the definition of “framily” and brothers and sisters in Christ. Just this past weekend we participate in our 3rd Family Camp, an annual weekend where the entire church body camps out together on the church property for a whole weekend.
This year’s theme was Adventure Is Calling, and every evening we would end the day by singing praise songs over the cliffs, shouting praise to the mountains, staring boldly straight into God’s handiworks. The weekend speaker would deliver a message or short sermon, and while every family camp has been encouraging and thought provoking, this one rocked my soul from the first night when he told us
“You can’t grow in your comfort zone.”
It hit me like a bullet, and stayed with me all week. There is nothing more comfortable for me than being in our church; I know everyone and all the answers, it’s the ultimate comfort zone for a lifelong Jesus freak. But while the safety net there can be comforting, it can also be boring.
The truth is we aren’t created for church. Church was created for people, to be missional in purpose. And while those inside should be ministered to, we’re missing the biggest part of the puzzle if we stop there.
The problem is stepping out of your comfort zone is, obviously, uncomfortable! But I think that’s the next step I need to take. My discontentment and boredom is because I am thoroughly entrenched in my comfort zone and guys, it really is boring. I wasn’t created for my own comfort; you and I were created for more.
My own hang up with stepping out of my comfort zone is that I don’t succeed there. Like at all. I rarely do well enough to brag in my success when trying something new (then again, who does?).
Being a foster parent puts you in almost daily contact with the uncomfortable. . Foster kids, because they are considered their own family unit and in many cases wards of the state, are automatically enrolled in government sponsored healthcare coverage and government programs for low income families. The eye opening thing for me has been to see how society and people employed by the government treat people who are on these programs. When I show up to the WIC office, they don’t know that I am a foster parent; instead, I am immediately categorized with the other women in the room.
First off, people’s worth is irrelevant to their income level. I know that I believe this, but I wonder if I subconsciously treat people the same way that I am treated when I walk into a store flashing WIC checks or a doc’s office with MediCal health insurance cards. The second I pull out those WIC checks at the cash register, clerks and people in line behind me become impatient, shorter in sentences, and talk down on me as if I can’t understand how they work; in some cases I have had to fight to talk to a manager to get the checks to clear. The first time I walked into the WIC office in Truckee they have you fill out a questionnaire with idiot level questions on it, assuming that most people who are there are incapable of knowing how much formula to mix with water, even though it is income, not IQ, that qualifies you for WIC.
Matt and I were both raised pretty poor. We’ve worked so hard to make financial progress that it borderlines on idolatry at times, and we’re pretty vulnerable with God to ask for his help to keep him, not finances, first priority in our life. And it’s a humbling experience to be roped in with the “have nots” of society.
“In the Scriptures, past success is always the greatest threat to future usefulness in God’s kingdom…We lose the ability to be useful in God’s hands when we become afraid to lose the success we have achieved.”
-Mike Erre, Jesus of Suburbia
When Matt and I pray, we pray with the fear of being stripped of what we have, as if we have achieved success on our own. In reality, God has given us everything we own, and we don’t really have anything ourselves, for:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
Last week I dragged the kiddos to another appointment for our little guy. By now Jamison is pretty familiar with doctor’s offices and government waiting rooms, so she cheerfully went over and grabbed a book for me to read to her (a Disney princess book, obviously) while we waited in the waiting room. There was only one other family in the waiting room, and it wasn’t the kind of family you see often in suburban, wealthy tamed Truckee. There was a newborn and a handful of adults that all seemed to somehow be related, and a toddler running around as well. The toddler boy came up to us and wanted to read with us. As he smiled up and mouthed some garbled sentences you could see the rotting teeth he already had at age 3, and hear the cognitive disabled speech patterns in his aunt and uncle’s speech patterns as they yelled at him across the room.
Honestly, it was uncomfortable. The aunt was leering and spiting at me, the mom was highly special needs and was hard to talk to, and the family dynamics were pretty crazy. Even Jamison seemed to recoil a little. But rather than letting her snub the boy from reading the book with her, which is what she wanted to do, I opened up another book and read it to the little boy. He grinned and happily followed along, and his dad came over and joined in the fun, helping his son find the animals in the page.
As I continued to read the book, I realized these are my people. Living for God means it’s not about my status symbols or success and achievements, it’s about serving those around me in every moment, even in a spare 10 minutes in a waiting room.
Last week was a small baby step of success and I still limped along with overwhelming feelings of get me out of here, my pride threatening to rear its ugly head at every moment. Stepping out of your comfort zone will do that. Frequently.
But it also felt strangely right. I had no restlessness, because I was too focused on others to notice my own neurosis.
“Today we are primarily known for what we believe, not what we do. Ask anyone outside the Christian community what they think of when they hear the word Christian, and they will most likely give you a list of political views (prolife, antihomosexual) or moral pejoratives (hypocrites, narrow minded, intolerant). Grace, compassion, mercy or love probably won’t be on the list.
This is how far we have come. During the first two centuries, Christian writers arguing for the truth of Christianity would point ot he acts of love and compassion evidenced by the church… Following Jesus is primarily about just that: following. Not just saying or singing or trying. Not just talking a good spiritual game. But actually, through God’s grace, loving as Jesus loved, living as Jesus lived, and teaching as Jesus taught. We seem to have made the whole thing an intellectual exercise in being ‘right’”.
-Mike Erre, Jesus of Suburbia
A few months ago I had a bio visit with the mom of two other kiddos we fostered for a few days. I sat trapped in a 10x10 room with a fellow parent who hated me, hated foster care, and lectured me for hours about how to take care of her kids. Uncomfortable for sure. And how did I respond?
Honestly, not great. I all but fled the room, became more tight lipped as the hours slowly crept by, and broke down in the car, completely overwhelmed by the hate thrown at me and also trying to figure out how I could carry 2 babies and lead 2 toddlers into a gas station if we needed a bathroom break during the 2+ hour car ride home in over 100 degree heat with no A/C in the car.
Luckily for me, God never insists on perfection. I know and completely rely on his endless grace to pick up where my feeble attempts at stepping out of the known end.
Our little man’s adoption date is looming nearer as his TPR (termination of parental rights) hearing is just around the corner. The social workers and adoption workers have started to ask us if we are going to continue with foster care after little guy is adopted into our family. Matt and I have talked, and if I were living life for myself, I would say no. Having two kids is freakin easy- we’ve done our part and can wash our hands, comfortable in the fact that we stood up, right?
But when you see the need for Jesus, read daily in the bible God’s call to action, and have been given these resources to use for him, how can we not go out of our comfort zone again? So we’ll be renewing our foster care license and stepping out again to see how we can reconcile and change our priorities to look more like Jesus’.
I love our church. I love Truckee. But I need to step out of my comfort zone. Matt and I need to pray new prayers. And I know enough of God to know when we step forward in faith he will never case to blow our minds with his plans and visions, which are so much loftier and higher than ours.
In his book The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch recounts the way in which the dying church he was hired to became revamped. He talks about a druggie and roadie named George who instead of paying his parking ticket fines decided to do jail time in lieu of payment. He grabbed a Bible to pass the time away for the ten day stint, and ended up finding Jesus in prison.
“On release, he hooked up with his brother John, an equally mad radical, and he too gave his life to Christ and became a follower. With characteric zeal the two of them soon developed a list of all their friends, contacts, and people they sold drugs to and, armed with a big, black KVJ bible and a Late Great Planet Earth video (which they used more effectively than the Bible) they met with all the people on their list. Within six months about fifty people had given their lives to the Lord! One of them was later to become my remarkable wife, Debra, and another was her sister Sharon. They were coming down from an LSD trip when they were exposed to the video and decided for Jesus. How could you not, watching that movie on acid?
I mention it here because it says so much about how God works at the fringes of society…”
-Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Way
While it makes for a great story and revitalized the church, the practicality of stepping out to the fringes of society scares me. Through foster parenting I’ve started branching out from my safe little space of mom play dates, above average public school systems and the brunches with families from church. Those pursuits have their place, and they refresh my soul, but I can’t stop there. If I don’t take that refreshment I find in Jesus and his living Church and use it to draw in others and spread his love, what good is it?
I wish the day to day life looked as glamorous as it sounds. To step out in faith for Christ, showing his love to others doesn’t look like me dying as a martyr or seeing thousands believe in Christ in one poetic gospel sermon let unleashed. For us right now, it starts simply by praying deliberately for the things he prioritizes for his believers, not the checklist of the American Dream. So we're going to be praying for opportunities, not to further our careers but to further our interaction with the fringes. I've already started a list of things God desires for his children, and we're going to work down that list, praying and actively seeking ways in every day to heal, give, serve, teach, and most of all, love.
Only God will know what lies ahead out of our comfort zone. But I am ready to pray for his will and step outside of my bubble, even if I can only muster one little step at a time.
Through God’s grace I know he will lead me to do more for him.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”