When I started this blog nearly six years ago, it was intended to be a heartfelt commentary on the trials and tribulations of a historically-Midwestern guy making a jaunt to the West Coast. If you were to tell me that, less than a year later, I would be making the journey back to the midwest to start a three-year journey through mounds of strategy coursepacks and research papers on poverty alleviation, I would have dismissed your tomfoolery with a curt psh.
Then, if you were to tell me that, in the course of those three years, I would wax philosophical while in South Africa, reaffirm my purpose while developing a farmers cooperative in Jamaica, and move to Detroit — Detroit?! — to work for a highly-prestigious consulting firm, I’d show you that the definition for guffaw in the dictionary would have a photo of me next to it.
THEN, if you were to tell me that, only eighteen months after graduation, I’d have kinda sorta lost my way through the rat race of moving to a downtrodden city, starting an unbelievably intense career, and pursuing a long-term relationship…I’d be frightened to think of the prospects.
Well, it happened.
Patrick Carnes writes in his revolutionary book Out of the Shadows that graduate school is the first place where people encounter the challenge of “proving one’s self in an arena where every inadequacy is evaluated”. To a Christian that has embedded himself in a community of non-judgmental believers, even the process of applying to these programs — and receiving an impersonal rejection — can be a daunting task that ultimately shakes your perceptions of self-worth to the core. For others, the constant need for approval from friends, family, etc. can have the same effect.
When I first read this passage by Dr. Carnes, I immediately flipped through the pages of my recent life story and had an “A HA!” moment: my brain was rewiring itself in a way that made me believe that I could achieve my way through life. And my relationships — with others, and even God.
My recent circumstances showed me, clear as day, that such an attempt was nothing more than a charade. Throughout Scripture, there is a clear indication that works are an essential component of the Christian’s service to God and others, but unless derived from a heart of service and adoration for the Creator, they are lifeless.
Lifeless. Going through the motions due to overburdened work environments, stress, or simply trying to ignore the still, small voice begging you to be at peace…it’s easy to do. But it’s neither life-giving nor sustaining. We forget the profound responsibility we’ve been entrusted with — to love God, others…and ourselves with reckless abandon.
This morning, I sat in a coffee shop in Detroit’s Mexicantown district, chatting with my friend Dan Sadlier. As we shared stories of challenge and hurt, a simply profound dialogue took place:
“Dan, I still hurt. I hurt a lot.”
“…I know. But lead through it.“
…Lead through it. It can mean so many things, and at this present time it has some profound, specific applications for my life. But it aligns directly with a verse that has been on my heart for the past few weeks, one that inspires the crippled man to get up and walk, and one that compels all of us to RISE.
Awake, o sleeper,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you. — Ephesians 5:14