Doubting Thomas

So recently I’ve found myself having a sincere affinity for the disciple St. Thomas or “doubting Thomas” as he’s more commonly referred to in Christian circles. He is always brought up as an example of what not to do in the spiritual life and gets sort of rebuked by Jesus who tells him “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

Today possibly for the first time I’m really sympathizing with Thomas. I took a minute to imagine the larger context and what he might have been feeling. Jesus who he loved more than anything, who he had sacrificed everything to follow, had been tortured and killed in an agonizing and humiliating crucifixion.  And I imagine that as Jesus died so many of Thomas’ hopes and dreams died with Him.

Thomas must not only have been afraid, thinking of his own uncertain future, but also heartbroken and feeling like everything he’d ever worked for and wanted had come to naught. Then in the midst of this nothingness, of totally black despair, he hears that Jesus is alive. I imagine he must have had so many emotions. If it was true, what joy. If it was false, he’d have to go through the emotional rollercoaster all over again. Maybe he sensed that Jesus was asking him to have faith, but maybe there was a larger part of him, of his own will and own thoughts, that reminded him of the pain he’d just endured. Maybe he could hear in his interior that broken voice of bitterness and disappointment warning him that he needed to protect himself from further hurt because God hadn’t, look where he’d ended up by following God. I imagine it must have been from this place that he uttered his line recorded in the Bible, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

I imagine I would have done the same thing. I am struggling with the same thing now. With disappointments, with expectations that weren’t met and dreams which I felt God has called me to but which haven’t come true. The little voice in my soul telling me to keep moving forward in faith, hope and love is being drowned out by the emotional barrage of doubt, pain and an unwillingness to endure more which I imagine St. Thomas was also wrestling with.  And from that place I find myself wanting to say the same thing he said.

Thomas would find out a week later with the appearance of Jesus that God keeps His promises. He would see Jesus and touch his pierced hands and side. He would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah who had conquered death for all and ushered in the Kingdom of God.

In the midst of the battle of life do we know this also? Will we choose to cling to the words of Jesus? To hope in what we do not see but which we hope with all our hearts to see? If Jesus were to come back tomorrow would he find us living in that love and in that hope which we are called to live as His disciples?

These are dark times in which we live I won’t deny it. There are struggles that affect the world and struggles that affect our own individual spheres. I personally can’t promise Jesus that I can do this perfectly but I do promise to try and have faith in the dark, to believe without seeing and to live in the hope that one day like Thomas I too will see Jesus and at last come home to that place beyond the light which I have longed to see.

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The Surrender

I confess I have a love-hate relationship with my desk at work. It’s very modern: thin, sleek and totally white (think “just had my teeth whitened” white). You can very much tell that it, like all our other office furniture, comes from Ikea.

The advantage is that it really brightens up my tiny office.

The disadvantage is it shows every speck of dirt and for a neat freak like me this is sometimes challenging.

And I realized the weird paradox that some days when I notice that the cleaning crew has neglected to actually clean (this happens a bit we are in the process of replacing them) I wish that my desk was black or gray or wood or some other darker, more standard looking office desk so that I could be blissfully unaware of the dirt because there is only so much I can do with a Clorox wipe (I am totally that person) and now that it’s older, purchased very near my start date almost two years ago,  it almost never looks totally clean to me.

As I’ve been in the midst of the season of Easter I was hoping to coast off the discipline of Lent into Easter joy. However, I’m finding that the same feeling of dogged perseverance as if I stumbled over rather than walked across the finish line continues, namely because my quest for holiness continues. Rather than coast in Easter joy, I’ve been fighting off the temptation of feeling like a lousy return on everything Jesus died to give me (completely overlooking His selflessness which demands no return in the process).

And with a wry and weary smile this afternoon as I was scrubbing the stains off my desk I realized that in a way I’m a lot like my desk because those sins and weaknesses that cling to my soul the way the smudges and other marks cling to my desk don’t blend in. It is clear that when the messiness of life happens both the desk and my soul ought to be restored to their original glory rather than conform to the imperfect state of uncleanliness simply by virtue of how they each were designed to be bright.

In my ongoing quest for holiness, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like the light of God’s love is so deep within that it’s actually casting out all my weaknesses and making me new. It’s not that this love is transforming me into an unrecognizable person but rather that the more I accept God’s love the more I feel like myself and the more I experience a greater freedom to love the way I desire to love. As hard as this stretching process can be, as much as it sometimes feels like I’m fighting against my own habits and personality, as much as in my impatience I get tempted to rely on my willpower rather than God’s grace I feel like the greatest growth in the spiritual life, at least for me, comes not just from success but in learning how to successfully fail.

Because it is from failing so frequently that I must practice how to gracefully surrender (which is the antithesis of my natural personality in case that wasn’t clear).

I have to surrender my sin and weakness to the mercy and love of God which is humbling, I have to surrender what I can’t control to God’s providence which is hope, I have to surrender my own understanding which is faith, I have to surrender my aspirations and my past in order to live in the present moment which is communion with God.

As much as I sometimes want the challenges that necessitate this surrender to go away, I realize without them there wouldn’t be the same opportunity to surrender to God in order to know His love better, to decrease that He might increase, that I’m trying to embrace it which I admit feels like the strangest, most counter-cultural thing I’ve ever done (and I’m a pretty strange person).

So just like you can tell that my desk comes from Ikea I hope you see from my life, even if it’s just from the struggles and my failures and my poorly titled blog posts about them, that my home is in Heaven and that’s where I hope to return someday.

Until then pray for me!

 

The Finest Thing I’ve Ever Known

I am really easily bored.

I hate reading what I’ve read 1,000 times before.

Why is all Christian writing the same?  Why does everybody always think that their interpretation is the most profound? Why can’t people be real? I always feel like I’m reading from the same old script with the same old rehashed lessons. The same trite life advice and cheesy prosperity stories.

And I’m tired of listening. I want to see. Because if people were authentically living the gospel instead of telling me to live it then the world would look different.

Authentic Christianity doesn’t need more pulpits. It needs more disciples, more laborers- to borrow a phrase from Christ Himself.

And even though the word laborers conjures up a sneer in our society or maybe even overtones of a mindless slavery (or even a foolhardy waste of freedom made only by the exceedingly ignorant) I choose it. And I pray for the grace to continuously choose it every moment of my life, both temporal and eternal. Let me be the happiest of fools. Because pride is blinding. It keeps you from seeing that to be the servant of God is to serve love itself. And I don’t think that Christian love begins with service (gasp!) I know all the works gospels and modern ideas of social responsibility, but that is not where love begins.

Love begins from the source of love: God. And Christianity begins as a true response to the love God first shows for you. Yes, I’m implying that true Christian service begins by letting Christ serve you. By saying yes to His love and letting Him get close to you and heal you of your sin, all your hurts and broken pieces. That’s what consoles His heart. This is how He loves not just you, but each person you’ve ever encountered. And imagine if we joined Him in that, in loving like that. We can’t do it on our own. We’re too selfish, too flawed. Too human.

But if we let God love us, suddenly we are free of that selfishness (granted over time) and ultimately redeemed from our own humanity that keeps us in bondage to our lower, less noble nature. Yet I find that the more of this freedom I experience the more I want to love God back, to share in this love and to serve like He does.

Because this is the essence of love. Real love. A mutual, self-giving service. And it’s the finest thing I’ve ever known.