Tag Archives: Christianity

I’m No Goodie-Two-Shoes

My goal in life, my motto if you will, is to love God, love other Christians, and love people who aren’t yet Christians. 

I realized recently that this can be taken as a “Nice Christian thing” or “The motto every Christian is supposed to want to have, but none of us really want.” I mean, in fairness, it sounds so lofty and so tiring. Deep down many of us are thinking, “Can’t we just relax and live our lives without someone pressuring us to be a super-Christian?

Here is the thing: This isn’t my motto because I’m “supposed” to have it as a motto or because I’m trying to be an uppity or a goodie-two-shoes or a perfect Christian or any of it. It’s my motto because I literally can’t find any other way to live that comes even close to filling me. 

Desperation

I’m thirty years old. I’ve had three decades to try and find things to fulfill me and make me happy. And most of it doesn’t work. I tried being smart enough and running fast enough to earn love from my parents, teachers, and classmates. It didn’t work. I tried being funny. It didn’t work. I tried being friendly. It didn’t work. I tried serving people and I tried making their interests my own. That didn’t work either. I earned appreciation along the way, some respect, and even a little love. But it was never enough. I never had enough love.

I tried filling the holes in my heart with objects. Movies don’t fill me, video games don’t fill me, food doesn’t fill me. And, sorry Stacy and Clinton, but clothes, even ones that make me look fabulous, have never brought me joy. I enjoy all of these things, but I leave feeling….empty. 

Did I ever turn to the harder stuff, the stuff that actually concerns others when you get too involved in it? No. Alcohol just makes me dizzy. And when it comes to drugs, in the end the most compelling argument not to do drugs was that every high eventually ends, and every user has to keep using more and more to get a high the next time. Even in my lowest moments drugs were never an option because I wanted a cure, not a band-aid. 

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ve found a cure to life’s unhappiness, and I’m not going to pretend it is. I know too many miserable Christians. I was a miserable Christian. From ages 5 – 17 I knew and believed God had died on the cross for my sins, and I had accepted him as my savior and vowed to follow him all of my days. But I was still lonely. I was still in pain. I was still trying to earn affection and favor from people and from God. When that didn’t work I plummeted emotionally. I struggled with depression and at times was on the brink of suicide. 

Then one day God broke through. One day I understood that he not only had saved me from the consequences of my sin, but He loved me, and I didn’t have to earn it. I’ve spent the past 13 years learning more and more of what that concept actually means. And you know what? I’m still in process. Every time a person on this earth loves me well my concept of love expands a little bit, and my picture of God gets a little bigger. 

Consequences

As a Christian, I am commanded to love others. But that isn’t why I love others. I’m not a perfect little girl, obedient in every facet. On the contrary, I have a substantial puckish streak which delights in following the letter of the law and not the spirit of it. I follow the command to love others because it reinforces a truth that I already know in my heart: that I am not the only one in this world who struggles to fill the holes. I am not the only one who has struggled with loneliness and depression and who has sought to earn favor from God and people. I spent too many years looking in the mirror at the sadness in my eyes for me to ignore it in the faces of others. And that is why it is the worst kids in class who become my favorite. I love the kid whose mother ignores him, and the girl whose whining tells me of the angst in her heart. I resonate with Jesus when he says, “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,” and I resonate with the poem by Emma Lazarus at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, calling out, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” I love the ones no one else wants, because for so many years I didn’t feel wanted. But I don’t love people because I think my love will be enough. I know my love won’t be enough, because no one else’s love was ever enough in my life. I love in the hopes that it will point people to the love that won’t disappoint, the love that will not fail, the love that will never cease. 

The truth? The truth is that if you could convince me today that God is not real, or that God is real but he is a distant figurine who has created the earth and now watches from a distance, uninvolved and uncaring about our daily lives, if you could convince me of that today, I would kill myself tomorrow. The only reason, and I literally mean the only reason, I am alive is because I have found someone who fills my holes, and I believe He wants me to stay alive until he is ready to take me. 

Life? Life is still hard. I still have to fight to let Him be enough and to not fall into my old habits that never fail to disappoint me. A relationship with anyone is work, and God is no exception. But if I’m going to spend another day on this earth, much less another year or another couple of decades, I can’t fathom not loving God, the person who makes staying here tolerable; I can’t fathom not loving other Christians and hoping I expand their knowledge of love the way others have expanded it for me; and I can’t fathom not loving people who aren’t Christians, and praying that someday they will have this life-transforming relationship with Christ that I have. 

The Risk

I’m putting this on the Internet. This vulnerable information is going to be out there for the world to see. And that carries a risk. Off the top of my head I can think of half a dozen dire consequences that may come from this. On the other hand, I can think of plenty of consequences from not posting it. So I’m leaping and putting my heart out there. I want people to know I didn’t lightly reach my convictions. I didn’t casually decide to love others. I’m not an idealistic ignoramus who will abandon her ideas in four months when everything goes downhill. I’ve already seen things go downhill. I’ve already massively failed at this undertaking of loving people. But even the worst moments with this strategy have still been better than months of my life under the old strategy. The trials of the past pushed me into darkness, while the trials of the present push me into light. 

If you hear anything, hear this: I don’t push for these ideals because I’m better than you. I push because I’m more broken than you. 

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Fall Festival: Welcome back, gods…

As I type this the sound of Japanese flutes streams into my room. Outside my bedroom window a procession of brightly dressed priests passes. Today the people of my town are welcoming back their gods. 
 
The common Japanese name for each month is its numerical status. January is literally “First month,” February is “Second month,” etc. But recently I learned there are older names for each month. February, for instance, is the month of wearing extra clothes. November is literally the month of frost. October is called the month of no gods. 
 
There are two religions that are common in Japan: Buddhism and Shintoism. In the Shinto religion gods are worshiped at various shrines throughout the country. Most towns have one or more shrines in them. High hills often have a path leading up to a shrine on top. According to Japanese lore, for a few weeks in October, all of the gods leave their shrines and head to Shimane prefecture, in the southwest part of Japan’s main island. There they have some sort of big meeting or conference, and then after a few weeks they return. Today is the day the gods are welcomed back. 
 
As an anthropology major, every part of me wants to prize and give value to the Japanese culture. I respect and admire my friend Chloe who has learned the Japanese tea ceremony and diligently practices on the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument. I applaud my teammate Bryan for learning kendo, the art of Japanese fencing. And in my time here, I’ve loved learning kanji, the fancy characters that make up one of the Japanese alphabets. But it is hard to love days like today. 
 
Around noon I stepped out for a few hours. I love seeing my students dressed in traditional Japanese garb
 
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instead of the jeans and a t-shirt they usually sport. (These two girls wanted me to take their picture, so I obliged).
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I wandered down the street lined with booths.
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I bought octopus dumplings and went goldfish scooping. Later, I ventured back out to watch what was going on. It looks like men carry small shrines down the street,
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imbibe copious amounts of alcohol along the way,
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get in the river (it’s 53 degrees and there is a stiff wind),
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walk a little ways,
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then get out of the river.
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They all seem to enjoy it, which is pretty cool. Japanese people work extremely hard, and it is really nice to see them enjoying themselves. 
 
Still, days like today sadden me a little. It’s hard to watch the crowds and know that they think their gods leave. They ring bells to get their attention when they enter shrines. I look at their gods and see…emptiness. Sometimes as a Christian I take God’s love for granted. I forget how radical it is that Jesus not only loves me on a daily basis, on a consistent basis, but that He sent his son to die for me. I forget that isn’t normal. That the very concept of this relationship I’ve had for 25 years is unknown to many of my neighbors. This isn’t the Bible belt in America where anyone who doesn’t know made a choice. This is Japan. And they haven’t the foggiest. 

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