T.S. Eliot writes, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
I am forty-one and a half. And lately, I’ve been sensing that God is calling me, like the prodigal, to return to my senses—to return to who I really am. A turning and returning that is repentance. To forsake the Vanity Fair of the Church and the world and to return to becoming one who lives childlike trust and simplicity—one who trusts and obeys. Of course, I am not called to childishness or naiveté. Not immaturity. It is the kind of trust Jesus exhibited when all sorts of complicated plots and intrigues were happening about him and, in many ways, to him. He was called to childlike trust and obedience and love of neighbor when what was happening to him was beyond his human understanding when his then known world was falling apart.
In those moments, Jesus didn’t use the ways of the world to bring about the kingdom of God and his righteousness. He didn’t traffick in power plays by calling down fire from heaven to destroy the unwelcoming Samaritans like James and John asked him to (see Luke 9:51-56). Jesus didn’t do what so many of us, and so many Christian “leaders,” are wont to do: use godless means to bring about God’s ends. Or use God and the Church to perpetuate their own fame and power. No, Jesus surrendered his will and the way he thought things should go down, to his Father. He emptied himself of his glory and his rights that he might be the servant of all. There’s no way you and I are going to be able to do the same if we listen to the wilderness temptations of money, power, fame, and pleasure found inside and outside of the Church or inside of our hearts.
To return to our senses and to become like Jesus, it will require the courage to do the simple things. To be a child in the Kingdom of God. God is not asking us to do or be something that is beyond us. To do the complicated. He is inviting us into the “My yoke is easy, my burden is light” kind of life. It is a life that comes to us little by little as we trust and obey and use his means to accomplish his ends—as we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33).
Although I grew up in poverty and great familial difficulty due to a family member’s episodic struggles with mental illness, God spoke to me in the simplicity of my life.
What do I mean? When I was a child, I loved being outside and in nature. I’d hide under a bush and nestle into its branches. I could look at the world from inside of the branches without being seen. I was one with nature in my little hiding place. I’d also take a walk into the forest found on our land. In surrounding myself with the silence of the forest, by closing my eyes and listening to the wind in the trees, in walking through the fields, and in absorbing the blue sky, I felt at peace. It was a liminal space where God was close.
Peace and guidance came through the simplicity of reading my Bible, listening to pastors on the radio, prayer, walking the mile or so to my country church on Sunday mornings as a child by myself or with my younger brother and sister. It came through extending a hand to someone who needed it, to giving to others who were poor, by coming alongside of others who were marginalized.
As I got older, engaging in the essentials of communion became more difficult as I had more options. I was tempted to engage in the newest Christian self-help or platform-help gimmick to get where I wanted to go whether it was in my individual or communal life with God or to sell books. Other people were doing it. They seemed to be thriving. Why shouldn’t I? But I knew deep down in my heart that engaging in these things was not the way for me. I couldn’t sell my soul for a book or for a platform. And after a while, I saw what happened to so many who engaged in these gimmicks. They sold their souls and took lots of innocent people down with them. They were found out.
It’s not worth it. I could gain the whole American Christian subculture world and lose my soul. It’s a house of cards that will collapse in an instant if Jesus Christ is not the foundation. And we are seeing it collapsing before our very eyes because Jesus hasn’t been the foundation. We have made many churches and ministries in our own images. In that way, it is all meaningless, as the philosopher said in Ecclesiastes.
For wholeness to come, for shalom to come, for my soul to be saved, I have to return to those rhythms I had as a child. The rhythms of our life with God are slightly different for each one of us. But for me, it is doing what I did as a child. It is coming to my senses by returning to my first love. That means I am in nature, in Scripture, in prayer, in silence. It means I offer my life on behalf of the financially impoverished and those impoverished in other ways. It means I mute the noise of the world to pay attention to what is most important: God and the people around me and others along my path. It means I refuse to worship the idols of the Christian subculture though many may bow. And it means one last thing: that I look at the logs in my own eyes before I dare dig out the speck in the eye of another. Because I know that I too can succumb to temptation. I too can tarnish Jesus’s reputation. Eliot was right; after all this exploring I am arriving where I have started and beginning to know the place for the first time. Home.