This entire blog, The Sanctuary, is based off of the idea that humanity was designed to function best in faithful committed relationships, and to find psychological rest. A deep breath for the soul. The irony is not lost on me then, that I am aching to write today about the other things that I believe all humans are made for - risk.
I believe that the two matters belong together, as the two sides of a single coin. We need sanctuary in order to find the courage for risk. Once we have engaged in risk, we no longer take sanctuary for granted.
I remember praying to God – no, that’s an understatement – it was more like begging. “Please don’t let me have a normal, go-through-the-motions life.” The other morning one of my ten year olds burst forth with a philosophical question: “I don’t even understand the purpose of life! We’re kids, we grow up, we work, then we die!”
It’s not for lack of conversation that he carries the angst of this question. We talk about purpose all of the time. We talk about eternal things. We talk about destiny. I knew that it was simply that his own heart was beginning to ache for deep understanding, not just for logical answers. He is venturing further into the world of abstract thought.
I told him, “I could give you answers, son. But, ultimately, this is a question that you are going to have to bring to God and allow His Holy Spirit to show you the answer.”
We’re not the only one who has languished over this matter - this matter of purpose. For centuries humans have wondered. Humans have dreamed. Humans have thrown their hands up and said, “What’s even the point of it all?!”
The Bible tells us that God has put eternity into the hearts of mankind. Eternity. The sense of something greater. The desire to make a difference and to live a life fully alive.
Here’s a picture into my younger years - as a seventeen year-old I listened to a song by Switchfoot on repeat in my little nearly-prehistoric silver discman. It put words to the emotions I was feeling:
“We were meant to live for so much more,
Have we lost ourselves?
Somewhere we live inside.
We want more than this world’s got to offer.
We want more than the wars of our fathers.
And everything inside screams for second life.”
Apparently it wasn’t just me who resonated with this song, as the song hit the top charts in North America in the year that it was released. I just found out that the songwriter, Jon Foreman, found some of its inspiration from a TS Eliot poem entitled, “The Hollow Men”.
The first stanza is as follows:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
This is the tragedy of apathy. Can we scale back far enough to see who we really are?
Consuming. Accumulating. Worrying. Engaged in a tug-of-war for more. Refuse to look the poor in the eye. Sometimes that includes ourselves when we stand face-to-face in the mirror. Flailing about in our own insecurities. Fixated on how we can improve our own little world.
And doesn’t something inside of us scream for more than that? T.S. Eliot spoke of the “stuffed men” – those without conviction, courage or sacrifice. His poem ends with these lines:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
This is not the way that it has to be. I know it to be true and I believe that we are in the dawning hours of a movement of those committed to something greater than themselves. Something within us longs to have the courage that shifts culture.
It begins today with small choices of servanthood, of truth-telling, and of generosity.
And if you want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the greatest revolutionist of all, it will also include choices that will mark you as a radical.
Jesus is celebrated as a messenger of love, but He was undoubtedly also a messenger of non-conformity.
With the religious, He opposed their prideful stance and their idolizing of tradition. With the notoriously wicked, He offered mercy and then an invitation into surrender.
Give up your life for the sake of following Him, and you will find real life. Try to save your life and you will undoubtedly lose it. What does it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?
Over the years I have felt the voice of God leading me to the unconventional and counter-intuitive. It is like a whisper on the inside of me that simply will not be silenced. He led me into years of the unique obscurity of being a stay-at-home mom; He led us to generosity when that just wasn’t practical. I have been surprised by how invasive He is – leading me to give up the strangest of things that I didn’t even realize had become vices, or asking me to take risks in order to assassinate the cruel dictator called Fear.
When I have followed, it hasn’t always led me to immediate benefits. It has led me through lonely forests where I feel misunderstood or unseen. There have been seasons going through painful wilderness, where the cost of obedience has hollowed out a space in my soul that left me desperate for a filling.
In those times of wrestling, when I complain to the Lord, I hear Him whisper, “I’m just trying to answer your prayers. Remember? You didn’t want normal.”
Right. More than this world has to offer.
If you know Him though, you would likely guess that the Good Shepherd, the One that led me into the wilderness, has always led me out into places of joy. When I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath, suddenly there would be a place in His presence where my lungs drank in fresh grace and courage.
The ones who yield to the voice of the heavenly Father will also find that the resources of heaven are increasingly at their disposal.
Years ago, while in a Bible school class, a guest speaker dared us to pray a prayer. “Only if you really mean it,” he said. We each contemplated for ourselves and responded silently however we wanted.
“God, never let me have my way again.”
Maybe you need to hear that today.