I’ve been incredibly thirsty for Scripture lately. Traveling throughout Australia has brought a lot of wonder, beauty, enjoyment deep into my soul lately, but there’s something about the incessant transience of life that occasionally makes it difficult to find true moments of reflection and solitude. And so I’ve felt that lack in the past week, leading up to the past few days.
I’m reading a book called Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Mitchell. Following a personal crisis, she traveled through three countries (Italy, India and Indonesia) in order to connect with herself and something divine, through food in Italy, meditation in India and love in Indonesia (so the book says… I haven’t gotten to Indonesia yet).
I’ve appreciated this book because in its own quirky way, it’s forced me into a place of self-reflection. Not overanalysis, which I’ve been incredibly guilty of over the course of my life in various times. I’m realizing more and more that while introspection has its merits (this coming from a someone who has been journaling since the age of 7. True Story!), often overanalyzing situations, other people and their motives and even the innerworkings of my own mind has the potential to be incredibly destructive. Overanalyzing, I’m slowly realizing, is often a symptom of my attempt to control situations and other people, rather than a genuine search for truth and understanding that transforms.
THAT kind of truth is what I’m thirsty for.
Before I left for my trip to Australia, my good friend Josh lent (indefinitely?) me a book called Invitation to Discipline by M. Robert Mulholland Jr. I think he initially gave it to me due to my ongoing obsession with all things Myers-Briggs. It’s a book about spiritual formation, and incorporates Myers-Briggs as a means for understanding our own tendencies and how they relate to spirituality.
I’m not going to get into it right now, but suffice it to say that this book has been sinking deep into my consciousness over the past couple of months. It’s the kind of book that you digest slowly over time. And must be internalized. And I highly recommend it to you, my lovely readers, who stalk my blog, unbeknownst to me.
But, as a warning… only read it if you are prepared to get your butt kicked.
Anyway, I was reading something simple in Romans, and it caught me off guard. It’s a simple verse: Romans 12:12. It says “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
Seems innocuous enough. But then I realized what each of these simple commands does. All three of them combat three specific dangers. Three specific tendencies that seem so prevalent in our culture: cynicism, bitterness and self-sufficiency.
“Be joyful in hope…” combats cynicism. I’m learning over and over that hope is the antithesis of cynicism. I still believe that hope firmly rooted in reality is not a blind optimism, nor an avoidance of harsh reality. If Christ really is who He says He is, than hope is the ONLY thing that can truly deal with reality. I’ve long looked at the eventual destinations of two separate trajectories, those of a heart fixed on cynicism and a heart fixed on hope. One mars the soul, while the other uplifts. And helps the soul find its true identity.
“patient in affliction…” counters bitterness. Suffering and affliction has the potential to ruin a person. It can break a man’s spirit, cause the most open-hearted person to retreat within herself, and feed desires of vengeance and hatred and an unforgiving spirit.
But as Jesus shows us through His life and death, suffering and affliction also has the overwhelming potential to redeem and transform. Suffering can either break your spirit or bring you incredible freedom. I think of Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela or the apostles or Oscar Wilde locked in their cells of suffering. Suffering in those cases led, not to bitterness or despair or destruction, but to freedom and a revolution of the spirit and transformation of entire communities of people. Choosing patience over bitterness in times of trouble heals the soul.
“and faithful in prayer…” combats self-sufficiency. Humans are self-sufficient, bent on our own way of doing things, asserting our own control and fixing things the way we like it. Prayer bends and breaks us out of this self-absorbed mode of living, and puts us in a posture where we are humble and listening to Someone who is more powerful and infinitely more loving than we can ever be. Prayer brings us into a conversation where we are not trying to control things, but rather, being led into a relationship with God: a relationship that transforms and heals us and actually brings about CHANGE.
I share these things because I realize how easy, how unconsciously easy it is to slip into any one of these three modes of living. This is when I truly see how counterintuitive and countercultural Jesus really is, and how a life fixed on following Him and loving Him ought to look. People within the church as well as out of the church can just as easily succumb to cynicism, bitterness and self-sufficiency. No one is immune to this.
But this is what I love about Christ and what He calls us to: it’s like any other relationship. There must be communication, constant vigilance, but also time to breathe and just be. It’s always changing, always dynamic. Things shift, and there are always potential weaknesses and tendencies to be aware of.
So yes, for now…Mel in Australia will Eat, Pray, and Love.