A lot of us aren’t living the kind of life we were made to live. In our rare moments of clear self-awareness, when the fog of confusion lifts and the clouds of illusion melt, we can see the distance between who we are and who we’re meant to be.
The good news is that we don’t have to settle for the way things are. Love and joy can flow in us just as surely as blood courses through our veins; the spirit of Jesus can stream into every part of who we are, and make us fully and wondrously alive.
Ironically, some of the people most drawn to Jesus seem most distant from the kind of life he promises and they most want. They’ve tried hard to do everything they thought he asked them to do; in fact, some of the have tried so hard that there isn’t much of them left. They’re exhausted and empty.
Here’s the problem: a lot of us are working very hard at things Jesus didn’t actually ask us to do—at least not in the way we’re doing them. In other words, I think we are laboring under a serous misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian.
Being Christian is about a living and loving relationship with Jesus. But, instead of a relationship with Jesus, some of us have a list of “dos and don’ts” which we mistakenly believe describe and define a Christian’s identity. So, for us being Christian is mostly about meeting a set of expectations, shouldering a load of demands, and measuring up to certain standards. Things like:
Obey the Ten Commandments.
Read the Bible.
Tithe—or feel appropriately guilty for not tithing.
Show up for Sunday School and worship.
Say “yes” when asked to serve.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Ignore your dreams and desires; suppress your anger; shut down your imagination.
Never look bored or even admit to yourself that you are bored.
Don’t ask your hardest questions or express your deepest doubts.
Hide your vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and fears.
Be unfailingly nice.
Some of these things are such a load of nonsense. They are denials of our God-given humanity and distortions of what it means to be a friend of Jesus. Our dreams and desires, especially our dreams and desires for love, beauty, and mystery will, if we follow them all the way to their source, lead us to God, not away from God.
Imagination is a gift which makes hope and prayer possible; it is the capacity to see what might be.
Our anger can be converted to energy for making things right in the world and in us. If we can’t get angry about injustice and oppression, it’s likely that we can’t love either.
Boredom, like pain, is a warning to us that something is drastically wrong with our understanding of God. If we can make the Artist who fashioned creation boring, and if we can make the adventure of following Jesus dull, then we have truly lost our way. Boredom begs us to get lost, instead, in wonder love and praise.
Doubt is part of real faith, not its opposite. Questions are doorways into truth. Vulnerability, weakness and fear are openings through which love comes to us—the love of God and the love of friends.
So some of the things we think make a Christian a Christian are just nonsense. They might make us stoics or gnostics, but not Christians.
And, some of these things are right and good but only if they are part of relationship with Jesus. Otherwise, they are heavy burdens. Apart from a relationship with him, things like worship, Bible study, prayer, and serving others are just one more set of obligations to fit into an already overcrowded life. They become part of a long list of things we think we should do but don’t. Being Christian becomes a matter of failing, falling short, recommitting, trying again and trying harder, and failing again.
Being a Christian is about being and being loved before it is about doing and duty. It’s about a relationship, far more than about rules. Or, more accurately, it’s a relationship in which the rules are freeing more than they are regulating, because they are the rules of love: love God, love one another, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Christianity is not a matter of doing and not doing certain things; it’s not about still another set of expectations to meet, demands to shoulder and roles to play. Christianity is a living and loving relationship with Jesus, who pours his life into ours and fills us with his love and joy.