Joyful July 12, 2013

I have been sad off and on for years. This is a “first world problem” I know, because most do not have the privilege of worrying about their feelings as they struggle to survive. A survivor of the Great Depression in West Virginia rarely had time for depression: work and food were too scarce. Still sad I have been and sad I sometimes remain, only now I am  less sad.

Talking about sorrow has helped people, so hopefully talking about getting better will help somebody.

This I know: my partial solution may fit nobody but myself. There are no promises here, just a report on experiences.

Long ago I stopped trying to “cheer up” or find some dietary or other quick fix.

And yet in talking to wise people, I became convinced that part (only part!) of my problem came from a lack of spiritual discipline. God had given me three tools for spiritual growth: the Bible, prayer, and fasting. I read the Bible, I prayed, and I fasted, but not very often and not in an organized manner.

I would binge on religion when religion seemed important to me, but was not getting daily spiritual nourishment. Most important, my spiritual activity was done on my terms. The Bible? I read what I wanted when I wanted. Prayer? I said what I wanted to say when I wanted to say it. Fasting? I was for it, but my longest fasts were from fasting.

A problem with my spiritual life was that it was my spiritual life. My standard for Church was what I got out of it, not what God thought of it. What if I read the readings my church suggested for the day? What if I read through the Bible each year following a plan put together by wiser people? What if I fasted when my spiritual leaders said to fast and feasted when they told me to do so? What if I tried to please God in church rather than learning, experiencing, or doing something?

What if spirituality stopped being about the health of my spirit and about the Holy Spirit?

I am trying to say this as plainly as I can, because it is such plain truth: God is God and my spiritual life is about Him and not me. Somehow the old hymn “Just As I Am” had become a deal I was cutting with God, instead of God’s gracious gift to me.

God could transform me or accept me, but I did not want God to keeping demanding something difficult of me: make it awesome or make it go away.

But God did neither thing: He wanted obedience from me.

Obedience and submission to God were obvious goods for a Christian, but when God did not command something fast and glorious, like martyrdom, but for holiness and discipline in my spiritual life, I chafed.

But what did I have to lose?

Did I want Jesus? Did I want Jesus enough set aside other desires, even if they stayed around?

I would read Scriptures not of my choosing, pray as He taught us to pray often with words I did not write, and worship Godward. When it came to moral standards, I would stop the Satanic game of asking (always!) “has God said?” and submit to the revealed morality taught by all Christians in all places at all times. My fasts would be with a community and not in some abstract someday of my own choosing. Or I could decide that crosses, submission, obedience, holiness and the joy great saints reported finding in them were lies.

But churches, liberal or conservative, that affirmed me, and ministered to me, were as shallow as me. Acting as if God were a doting parent happy just to see me be me (as I was) did not fit the God of the Old or New Testament. It was not the God of church councils or the fathers and mothers of the Church. The longer the great saints lived, the less they talked about their needs from religion and the more they spoke of what their God asked of them.

And they seemed happy about this truth, though not in a quick, loud, or obvious way.

Mostly, or at least often, the work is plodding and of no interest to anyone, but God. Commanded to pray daily for those in authority, do. Commanded to pray for my enemies, try. Commanded to mediate on God’s Word daily, obey.

Giving, works of mercy, charity: these are acts of obedience in a community of faith and not decisions for me to make.

This is hard and remains hard.  I plod. Am I less sad? Yes, I think I am less sad. Am I sure this spiritual discipline helped? I am not sure, but something helped.

And yet, the path was so long, that I could never recommend anyone start spiritual discipline as a self-help program: the cost is too high. Spiritual discipline is for His sake, not my own. Is it worth it? If Christ is priceless, as I have found Him to be, then any loss is gain. Do I miss out on fun? Surely. Do I please myself as often? Surely not. But to lose the whole world and gain Christ?

Worth all I have.

And I think, God help me I think, that I am happier too, but I care a lot less than I would have thought possible.


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