Thirty years ago, I gave my life to Jesus. I was just 13 years old. Growing up in a Christian home, I had attended church and Sunday school, VBS, and sang in the choir. I had believed in Jesus my entire life, and I had faithfully done all that Christians were suppose to do. Then, in the wooded grounds of Agape Farms, surrounded by tens of thousands of other Christians, speaker Roger Cooper introduced me to a personal savior. I didn’t need a second invitation; I didn’t struggle with whether or not I wanted to surrender my life to God. I just did it. I had no idea that I was missing such an important piece of the Christian walk, until someone shared it with me.
While my walk has had its stumbles, I have never looked back. I have followed Jesus faithful, albeit imperfectly, for three decades. And after all this time, what I know is that there is more. Deep in my soul I know it. There is more than what modern American Christianity is offering. There is more than getting out of bed early in the morning for some quiet time with the Lord. There is more than Sunday morning and Wednesday night church, Friday morning women’s study, and Friday night home fellowship. There is more than twice a year service projects and a summer mission trips. I’ve done these things. These are not bad things, but there is more. There is more than growing in the Fruit of the Spirit so the church pews can become nothing more than bigger and bigger baskets of fruit that never meet the true hunger of the world. Many in the church are fermenting in the pews, and not in a meaningful way.
For me, like for many, my period of greatest change came with a period of great loss. In 2010, many of those things in life which I was holding on to as my identity began to slip away. When I started to question who I was, I ran to God. More accurately you could say that I was in a wrestling match with God that could rival that of Jacob. It was in that time that I began to really look at global issues of injustice: slavery, honor killings, child brides, poverty, gender based violence, and broken justice systems. I knew I needed to do something, and that something needed to be hands-on volunteerism, not just writing a check. It began with writing a check, and I continue to do so, but the hands-on part has still eluded me. I knew I needed this, but life has been hard and time and resources are in pretty short supply. How could I find the time to meet all the commitments I had in life as well as serve others? I was worn thin, and my spiritual life was suffering. The Christian status quo wasn’t working for me.
As a teacher, the first week of summer break is reading week. I curl up and read. This summer, my book of choice was A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker. I read and cried. C.S. Lewis said that friends are made when one person says, “You too? I thought it was just me.” Brandon (I’m making us on a first name basis, because, you know, CS Lewis said we were) wrote:
“I don’t know how you interact with God or if you, like me, have been trying to force intimacy in a way that isn’t really you. But know this: he will meet you where you really are. He’s there in that simple, authentic, vulnerable place where your questions are hard and your words are unrehearsed . . . he’s waiting for you, to meet the real you among the muck and the mire.”
Yes! Yes, to all of that. I have tried to grow in my relationship with God by mimicking others who seemed to be doing it better, but whose path did not fit my journey. For instance, the morning devotional time, sneaking out of bed before everyone else to have quiet time at “the foot of the cross.” Not happening. I’ve tried it. I promise you, I don’t like anyone early in the morning, not even Jesus.
So was this just another how-to-book, following another person’s 5 step plan to a deeper prayer life, a more faithful walk, and a better ministry? No. It was the answer to my question, “What am I missing?’ And while I haven’t had the chance to live out what Brandon offers as a solution, I am confident it is exactly right. The answer isn’t to learn more about living like Jesus or to be a better church goer. The answer is found in living a life like Christ and not Christians. The answer is not in more Bible studies, more prayer breakfasts, more outreach programs, or more serving the church. The answer is in less. The answer is in less of me and more of Jesus, less church programs and more relationships with “the least of these” and the nearest of these. The answer is profound and perfect.
I know this book will change my life. I already feel the freedom.