Posted by: edsohn | July 19, 2009

Giving for Living

It has been a long time, and I’m not sure who still comes around to this blog, but I feel the need to memorialize this sentiment into a post. While inspired only in bits and pieces and never quite enough to compose an actual piece that could stand up well, I am suddenly finding myself longing once again to be involved in conversation.  So Merging Lanes is still kicking a little bit of life in me yet.  I don’t mind if no one reads it.  But if anyone does read it, I hope pictures and headings help to spice up this very long post.

How ARE you?

This entry can serve as an update on my life.  In the past few months, I have detected a certain sullenness and cynicism creeping into my daily attitude.  I wasn’t trying to be that way, nor was it even really discernable at first.  But I did find myself one day being more sarcastic than necessary even in my overt demeanor, beyond my constantly sarcastic internal monologue.  I could even coldly observe myself, seeing trends and coming to conclusions on my cynical behavior and my motivation, but any change was unwanted and seemed impossible.

The symptoms of this ailment seemed random and disconnected.  “Spiritually” (to draw on the lingo of my heritage), I was doing not-so-great.  Measured by metrics of habits and religious disciplines, I did not have much to show.  Measuring the intimacy of my relationship with God of all galaxies, if that can even be measured, there was not a lot to show there either.  I’d not been a particularly malicious or evil person, but the image of Christ seemed lost in me.  Emotionally, my past began to haunt me, with pangs of regret and guilt.  Anxiety about my future began to doom me, with whispers that my destiny might just be ordinary and that I might not be so special after all.  Passion began to erode in my heart, passion for anything.

But somehow, recently, I’ve found a sense of freshness and revival again.  There is love in my heart and determination in my mind.  Why?  Am I working less and resting more?  Have I found enjoyment in my daily life that gives me something to look forward to?  Not exactly.  But I do have a hypothesis that tracks these ebbs and flows with certain events in my life.

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More of My Story

Let’s bullet these.

  • I left my home church last October, to seek a new church that would disciple and resource in global missions.  After a few stops in journey, I found myself attending a large conservative mega-type Christian body.  It was relaxing because I knew I agreed with the church’s doctrine, for the most part, and the ministry seemed to truly be solid.  I stepped away from doing too much with the various ministries with which I’m typically involved.  I missed a winter conference that I’ve attended for the last half decade and became increasingly inconsistent within various scenes I had been involved with, like a circle of Asian-American theology thinkers, my emergent-ish faith community, Atlanta-based urban ministries, and even my overseas justice ministry.
  • Throughout this time, I also found myself escaping into my work.  I’m thankful I have a job, but it has been the busiest period of my entire life.  Nevertheless, I found comfort in immersing myself into my workplace.
  • I have also started dating within this timeframe.  She is a sweet girl, and her company is incredibly easy and comfortable.  In fact, one of the areas of weakness in our relationship is how we fail to challenge each other.

But I was supposedly resting from being hyperinvolved (while restful for a short time), I was wasting away and felt the numbness of spiritual slumber.

And something happened: while I was praying with some saints serving the Lord in South Atlanta, praying for the city and the neighborhood, I felt … alive.  I felt like I had slept a long 8 hours a night for a month and had the freshest legs I’d ever had.

Now through a turn of events, I’ve returned to my home church, with a heart to serve. I’ve gotten back into the loop with some of the Atlanta ministries (see here and here), as well as my global justice ministry.  And now I’m back into trying to serve and be active, I feel awakened and rejuvenated.  I have re-discovered this truth: if it’s a fulfilled life that you want, though brief inactivity may do some temporary good, seek and do that which makes you feel alive.

It’s simple, but counterintuitive, given conventional worldly wisdom.

Land_Of_Make_Believe (1)

Wait, are you just making this up?  You make stuff up a lot.

It’s true, it seems like it might just be a theory based solely on how I feel.  But for good measure, Scripture speaks to this too–

But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. . . . Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

James 1:25, 27 (NLT, emphasis added).  Although James 1 is concerned with personal holiness, as we ought to be, to obey the “law that sets you free” really means to care for people and be Christian about loving others.  The perfect law of grace can set us free, if we take ACTION.  And the actions to be taken are not just repentance and the training of personal character, although that’s important too.  But it’s spelled out here: real religious freedom and blessing are found in the care of others in a way that goes against conventional wisdom.

Caring for others is where we find life and freedom.  The Bible says so.

Can you give me an example to explain understand how this works?

Consider this:  on most mornings, is it really getting enough sleep the night before that will really get you out of bed to go to work, or is it the fact that you are a person of value and importance that gets you up in the morning?  Out of my personal experience, for me it is certainly the latter.  Recharged capability is important (all the purpose in the world won’t replace severe sleep deprivation), but I posit that it isn’t nearly as life-giving as being motivated by a sense of meaning and worth in what you do and who you love.

The world tells us we need to rest more, that labor is depleting and inactivity is how we recharge our batteries.  But I believe that purpose is more strength-giving than rest.  Our holy purpose is image Christ by helping those in need.

Challenge

So my challenge for Christians is this: if you are feeling empty, broken, tired, think twice before acting on human sensibilities.  People will tell you all sorts of stuff, like you should watch a bunch of tv shows and veg out for a weekend, because that always does the trick (jeez, it doesn’t).  Many will tell you, “you look like you really need a drink”, to chemically loosen you up and help you relax.  The best one of all, “you need a vacation.”

And some relaxing time off can help; I’m not arguing against it.  The Scriptures and the Judeo-Christian tradition teach a sacred Sabbath, something I should observe more often.  But I challenge you to just try and do the opposite of lapsing into unconsciousness when your soul feels weary and your heart falters: jump into action, care for the widow and orphan, and bind up the broken-hearted.  The reward of service is not only a mythical cache of treasures in heaven, but in living out a gospel of grace, you can find life-giving purpose and freedom today, because doing God’s work is the food that sustains our lives.

So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.”

John 4:33-36 (ESV)

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Responses

  1. Thanks so much for this post. It was a very important read for me.

  2. […] Giving for Living from Merginglanes.com […]

  3. when i first read this post, i was skeptical of it. but now, i realize how true it really is.


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