I used to think that pastors sat around thinking about following Jesus all the time.
(Pause here for uproarious laughter.)
However, I happened to notice the other day that I’ve been thinking a lot more than usual lately about following Jesus. I know if I mentioned it to her, my spiritual director would tell me that, if it’s on my mind, something there is worth noticing. So here’s what I’ve noticed:
The idea of conscientiously following Jesus for me personally has always felt a little unsettling. You know, most days I understand the exercise of following Jesus kind of like working with a trainer at the gym, always pushing me beyond the safe place where I’ve just settled in for a little rest.
“Look harder, Amy, I know you can see the next thing.”
“Go a little further-push that edge; I’m waiting for you to grow a little.”
“I know you never thought of me/life/faith/church like that before. That’s the whole point.”
“I know you’re scared. Come on, I’ll go with you.”
Yes, this understanding of what it means to be a disciple is just a little bit disconcerting for me. See, I grew up understanding faith as a whole list of nonnegotiable rules that I just had to figure out some way to obey, and that my decision to follow Jesus was like a safety net-you know, when I screwed up I could always count on Jesus to bail me out.
It was a very transactional way to view Jesus’ invitation to follow. And, honestly? For someone like me, who loves the illusion that I can control everything, this approach is quite appealing. It’s very clear and easy to understand . . . mark off the boxes and know for sure that you’ve got it all covered.
I’ve found, in fact, that this approach is much easier than what I now understand about following Jesus . . . which is not transactional at all, but rather more relational. That is, not black and white rules dropped into my lap, but an entire life of living in relationship with God, learning little by little what it might mean for me to live a life learning to love God and love other people.
And, the more I think about following Jesus the more I hope that in this case, as in as many cases as I can muster, Amy the disciple is the same as Amy the pastor, because there seem to be a lot of people around here who really want to follow Jesus. I confess I’ve been wondering-a lot-do I ever imply that following Jesus is a lark, a simple adherence to a bunch of rules, a clear-cut transaction? Have I told them enough how following Jesus is full of mystery and can very often lead one in very strange directions? Am I leading this church to understand the walk of faith as an invitation to discipleship in the truest sense of the word, one that might even lead us to live in ways that many would find ridiculously radical? Uncomfortable? Stretching? Maybe even painful? I wonder . . . how do I communicate this strange mystery that cannot, it seems, be quantified or codified? How do I communicate the rigors of being a disciple when I won’t-when I can’t-supply everybody with a laminated pull out list of dos and don’ts to affix to the back cover of their Bibles?
Thanks to a new friend Molly Brummett, I think I might have found one way. She and I were chatting just the other day and she told me something her father always tells her: “Cling to Christ and to everything else be uncommitted.”
When she said it the first time I loved it, then I asked her to say it again so I could let the words sink into my heart a little deeper.
This is exactly what I want to wrap up and give to each dear one I have the honor of accompanying into the waters of baptism or welcoming into church membership or sharing a moment of opening a heart to God. I want to tell them: “In the struggle ahead . . . in all the times when you wonder if you’re really following, if God is even there, if there was only a formula for following Jesus because you just don’t know if you’re headed in the right direction . . . for those times, remember to cling to Christ and to everything else be uncommitted. Because who knows where following Jesus will lead you? Hang on tight and follow close, no matter what comes your way. ”
And I hope, in the deepest part of my heart that I always know that, too.