The day before yesterday, I was suddenly struck by deep gut pain, and it’s the kind that takes your breath out. A year and a half ago, I was hospitalized for the same thing, but this time, thank God, it wasn’t quite as bad. After a trip to the ER, a contrast CT, a bunch of needles, and four hours playing sudoku on our phones, my husband drove me home with a bag full of medication. We collapsed into bed and thanked God we weren’t facing down another week of inpatient care. I have spent the last 56-ish hours in and out of sleep, mostly confined to my bed. I get up only for taking my kid to and from school and occasional visits to the necessary room (that’s a polite Southern term for the toilet).
I’ve had a lot of time to think in my bedridden state, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a very different person than the one I used to be. I don’t see the world or my place in it the way I used to. I don’t mean that in an Instagram-and-coffee-mug slogan sort of way. In the marrow of my bones, I am a different person than the desperate agnostic who sat down with her Bible in October of 2016.
In 2016, I was a political person. Like a lot of Americans, I was utterly obsessed with politics. I followed local, regional, state, and federal races. I listened to and/or read at least four news sources every, single day. I had to stay current. I had to stay involved. Somehow, that was just crucial to keeping the earth in orbit.
I studied history in college because I had this notion that history was the key to understanding “the right thing” in politics. I believed economic history could unlock the secret to never having another financial crisis. I believed that a proper knowledge of history could prevent wars, diseases, poverty, and injustice. It felt so vital. It felt so incredibly important. Despite the whole of human history as evidence to the contrary, I indulged the fresh hubris of every generation: we might do it better this time.
History, government, politics, and “current events.” That was what mattered. That was how a person made sure her life was on track. That was how a person could gauge her worth. The key to meaning and prosperity and peace was in there somewhere. I just knew it.
I don’t know why I thought an understanding of Germany’s federalism or the political fallout of WWI in the Middle East or the 19th century dispersion of Prussian radicals would be the glue that held it all together….but I did. Knowing these things felt like the literal end of the world. I felt like I was on to something massive in my studies. It felt like a life’s work unfolding in front of me. I was good at it. I believed that it would matter, that it would change things or enlighten people or prevent disaster. Of course all of it was just outrageously narcissistic but, at the time, it didn’t feel like I was making it about me. I felt like a Cassandra trying desperately to stop the end of the world. I see a lot of people who feel the same way everywhere I look. It’s like a mass delusion we’re collectively submitting to, and a lot of people get visibly upset when I press this point. It’s worth a little introspection, no?
I met Jesus in March of 2017, and it was like a switch flipped. I no longer care about any of that stuff I just spent three paragraphs prattling on about. Like…at all. I mean, sure, I think citizenship is important. There is value in voting, and there is value in being sure of what you need, expect, and desire from your elected officials. I’m still a patriot, but for entirely different reasons. I love my country and I will continue to participate in my government, but everything about my perspective has changed.
I am one person out of roughly 330,000,000 people in the United States of America. 1/330 million. My vote, my participation, and my “informed citizen” status don’t count for a whole lot (and neither do yours).
You know where my life counts? You know where my participation, my energy, my passion, education, and information count? Do you know where my humanity, my soul, and my love count?
It sure as [insert bad word Christians aren’t supposed to use] isn’t in Washington, D.C.
It’s in my home. It’s in my church. It’s in my grocery store or the line at the DMV. It’s in my family and circle of friends. It’s in the charities I donate my money and time to. It’s in the people I think about and pray for. It’s in the kindness I demonstrate to strangers. It’s in the gratitude I show to others who were kind to me. It’s in the patience I extend to the drivers around me. It’s in the forbearance I exercise with my husband and daughter. It’s in the smiles I give and the genuine love I feel for the people I come into contact with at the drive-thru, the gas station, or Wal-Mart.
I have impact there. My actions, words, and intentions matter there. I can feed people, help people, receive from people, love people, and actually change the course of someone else’s day, week, year, or life…there.
The thousands of pages of writing I did for my history degree and the thousands of pages of reading I consumed for my study of political science, current events, economic history…none of those things ever did any of that. Neither did my vote. Neither did my well-intentioned idolization of government and what it’s supposed to do. I’ve been privileged to see my government and how it functions up-close, and in a way that few other Americans get to see it. I’ve eaten with ambassadors and met presidents. I’ve shaken the hands of agency directors and congressmen. I’ve shared beers and cigarettes and fancy salads with diplomats and dignitaries from all over the world. It feels so important in the moment. They seem so important in the moment. But it isn’t, and they aren’t. Not really–at least, not in the way I thought they were.
Jesus taught me that, and it happened in a moment. An entire lifetime of chasing that place where I could make my life matter, where I could make something be different, where I could make something change for the better–decades chasing that–and Jesus corrected my course in the space of one tick on the clock. He showed me the most merciful thing he could have shown me, and that was the extent of my own insignificance. For a person like me, that was instant peace. Maybe some people need to be shown the opposite–that they matter more than they realize. I’m sure Jesus shows everyone what they need to see, but I needed to see that it isn’t my job to save the world; it’s his. I’m not qualified to save the world; He is. Jesus told me I could drop that burden and give it back to the one it belongs to.
How does that saying go?
I’m not God, and for that I thank God.
I am in the world, but my worth comes from another place. In the world, I am one out of billions, but in Jesus, am one with billions. That is where our value and purpose lie.
In my almost three years with Jesus, I’ve learned how to love people better. I am not an emotionally demonstrative person. When feelings get deep, I check out. I don’t cry. I don’t gush. I’m not open. I try to be, but I’m not. It takes years for people to crack me, and I’m not proud of that. I hate it. My husband, my daughter, and the people who’ve known me since I was 20 (or longer) are the only humans I’ve ever been able to give my whole heart to. That isn’t how this is supposed to work. It’s broken to operate this way, and it’s hurtful. We’re supposed to love everyone with the whole thing. We’re supposed to be confident enough in being loved by God that we can open up our chests and give our hearts to other humans without fear. That’s what turning the other cheek and carrying the pack an extra mile are all about. It isn’t about being a doormat. It’s about loving people…really loving them.
- I learned not to trust people with my insides somewhere along the way, and Jesus is helping me fix that.
- I write things into the public wind because I can’t say things–the needful things–to the people who know me and need to hear them. Jesus is helping me fix that, too.
- I’ve spent my life terrified. I’ve been terrified of people. I’ve been terrified of disappointing people. I’ve been terrified of being rejected. I’ve been terrified of failing (at anything, doesn’t matter what). I’ve been terrified of not knowing enough, doing enough, learning enough, being enough. Jesus is helping me sort through all of that.
- I used to be scared of everything, and I’m still scared of way too much. The difference, now, is that I’ve finally found the most important thing, and I have faith that it will not be taken from me. (Luke 10:41-42)
What are the broken things in you that you need Jesus to repair? We all have our own unique weaknesses and bad patterns. What are yours? Let God in, and let him start the work of fixing you. You can’t do it by yourself, and you’re not meant to.
When I look at the world today, I see people. I see people a lot more vividly, and they are personal to me in a way they never were before Jesus. The people in the cars. The people in the store. The people yelling ugly garbage at each other online. The people on the news. The people in the papers. The people in my church. Even the people in my home. I see them more like Jesus sees them. Each of them is beautiful. Each of them was made in the image of God. Even the ugly ones. Even the broken ones. Even the ones I don’t particularly like. Even the ones who mock me or shake their heads at me. God made them on purpose. In the world he created, we were supposed to be brothers and sisters. We’re supposed to love each other–all of us. It’s so much bigger than kum ba yah. It’s something I’ll never do perfectly. It’s something we’ll never see completed this side of eternity.
But it’s the reason we’re here. It’s more important than presidents and policies, money and achievement, education and intelligence, or drive and discipline. We’re here to love. Love God and love each other. That’s it. Ask anyone on his death bed, and he’ll tell you the same thing. Relationships are all that matter. People…are the only thing on this earth that matters.
That’s what I’ve learned since I met Jesus.
So vote. Watch the news. Be involved. Know what’s going on around you and participate. Achieve what you can. Make goals where you can. Work. Live life and enjoy the things of this world that make you happy. Eat. Drink. Read. Learn. Dance. Be freakin’ merry! But keep all of that in its place.
The place you can make real change and model real justice is in the 3 square feet around you. The lives you can change belong to the people in your line of sight. Every human being you encounter was made in the image of the Living God. Get up every morning and renew your resolve to treat them–to serve them–as the image-bearers they are…all of them. When we fail, we have to get back up and try again. And again. And again. It’s the most important thing. It’s the only thing that matters.
~Advent Season, 2019