No, this is not a Southern ocean shoreline, but the Lake Michigan shore line from the bluff in Holland, Michigan. I moved into my Grandmother’s house today. My mission for the next few months is simple: Work and Save. Pending acceptance to East Tennessee State University, I’ll be leaving this lake shore oasis to make home in the mountainous-oasis of Tennessee.
Remember that post a couple months ago about finding “home?” Well, with this recent move and hopefully the move to TN, I’m certainly on my way to that goal. But it has not been without some intense trial. I had to become a child just when I thought I was leaving adolescence behind. As the summer draws to a close and I am entering new chapters of my life, a powerful lesson is being pounded into my head. It comes from Matthew 18:3-9, which states:
“3 Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”
More often than I’d like to admit, I succumb to what I’ve heard referred to as “Stinkin’ Thinkin’.” I allow negativity and pessimism from outward sources to enter my heart and mind, and it throws my world into a trench filled with angst and bitterness. Honestly, I stumble. I see the world and all of its treachery coming my way, and I trip over it anyway.
Most recently, I gave up on my healthy eating habits and exercising every day, and as I transitioned into adulthood, I found myself praying less and less, and I sensed a twinge (more like a flood) of resentment in my heart for people who hurt me. I started resorting to anger before forgiveness, indifference instead of love. What I needed more than anything was a reset; a different atmosphere, different people, and a different way of thinking.
Thankfully, no ditch, or hole – self-dug or mined by circumstance – is too deep. I heard that voice in my head telling me to get out. Telling me that it’s about time that I stop letting my world effect my thinking, and rely on something more powerful than me or my worldly-influences to foster my soul and spirit.
I spent my summer working with children, and while it was not a basket of roses (herding 70 kids into a gym for a game is difficult, to say the least) the most beautiful thing occurred every single day. The children prayed. At the start of our day, before meals, and at the beginning and ending of some classes, a camper was chosen to lead the group in prayer.
A child’s prayer is probably the most honest thing in the world. They aren’t worried about saying the “right words” or phrasing things just so. They don’t really care who in the class is listening. They simply trust and know that God is hanging on their every world. They don’t have to know the Bible beginning-to-end to love the Lord. They just do. The question is asked, “Why do children have such faith? How can I have faith like a child?”
Children are innocent for all intents and purposes. They have not yet been scorned and deeply pained. They haven’t been programmed to expect the worse and wearily anticipate its arrival. That makes faith easier. However, many teenagers and adults have. We’ve seen hardships and terror, and the pains of this world have turned us away from God.They have made us bitter, forlorn and resentful. It is for this reason that we often travel the path of “me” and “I” and “I’m doing this on my own. My way. I don’t believe in a God who would allow me to suffer.”
Just because you do not believe in a God that allows this, doesn’t mean He’s not there. Jesus Himself (God in man form) said that the pain must come. Jesus Himself (God in man form) endured torture and ridicule, all so we could be forgiven and have the Holy Spirit to guide us and live within us. If Jesus went through this, if God so loved us that he put His own Son – who did nothing wrong – through this as a sacrifice for us, what makes us in our flawed fleshly selves exempt from pain? The answer is that we are not. It’s going to happen. Trial and tribulation is going to test us whether we are saved or not.
So the passage – is it really a call to remove any of my troublesome appendages?
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis discusses how just by there being a sense of “me” and “I” as separate, self-governing entities, it disconnects us from God. When we see our soul as only our own, we are taking that step away – we’re saying, “This is mine.” We’re distancing ourselves from the Holy Spirit that is to inhabit us – that is to be us for us because we cannot be us and be Holy. As humans, we are what we are – and what we are is flawed and imperfect when ruled by inherent human sinfulness. But that is not what we are to be. The Lord is what He is and what He has is the power, desire, and extraordinary ability to reside in us and live through us, thus turning what we are into what He wills us to be. If we let him.
If we die to sin, and he lives.
If we accept that we cannot be Him.
I cannot acquire His knowledge and His power. I cannot, and do not know better than the very God who created me. I cannot, in my own weak, fleshly, transient existence, be God or even be “like” Him.
What we need to rip apart and cast away is ourselves. The old you and me that gives into the allure and ease of anger over abiding in the Care and Love that nurtures our soul. More than merely casting our old selves away to come back at a later date – we need to die. We need to tie a stone around our old self with our old ways of thinking and doing and throw ourselves into the ocean so that a new self, who abides in the Holy Spirit that dwells within us no matter what circumstance plagues us, will ultimately prevail.
Then what would happen? Well, we’d be reborn, renewed. We’d return as children once again.
To say that we must become children again is not to say that we must become blinded and ignorant. We can’t become blinded and ignorant – we can’t forget traumatic events and experiences that have happened to us. We have to do something more. We have to have that faith, knowing full-well what this life has in store for us – the tragedies and the celebrations – and trust in God’s Will despite it.
By the Grace of God, I actually left my previous dwelling content with where I’m going, and accepting of where I once was. I was able to forgive the abuse I had gone through, and remedied my resentment by showing love to those who have scorned me. I’ve also been forgiven for my trespasses against others. I unashamedly (although reluctantly, at first) accepted fault where fault was mine, and absolved the faults of others. In short, I’ve coped with a past I cannot change, while marching toward a future that I can.
The best thing about all of this, and the thing that has stood out to me the most is the goodness of God and His mercy. These things that I’ve experienced – the forgiveness, and love – is God actively at work in mine and my friends’/relatives’ lives. Whether they know it or believe it or not, God is still using them and me to spread and display His character to each other and within ourselves.
I believe in a God that allows me to experience pain. The suffering strengthens me and it makes me all the more appreciative of the things that come easily. Pain is insignificant in the scope of things. Pain can wrack my body and test my mind but in the end, even in my inevitable bodily death, my soul would be well because I’ve come to the Lord as a child – not in experience or insight – but in faith.