Uncovering lies, leaving untrustworthy excuses, and chasing God’s calling.
I was on the mat, 40 pushups behind me and gearing up for the next part of my workout, when I saw an athlete bite it on the treadmill.
He, along with three other incoming freshmen, was trying out for the men’s soccer team. The assistant coach had walked them through the treadmill settings. Time to see how fast they could go and for how long. Probably two miles, maybe 2.5.
He was running hard. That’s what you do when you’re trying to make a college team. And when you’re determined, you will push and push and push. He did well, and then his legs couldn’t keep up anymore. Next thing, he’d fallen and his limbs were flailing, trying to pull himself back up as the belt kept moving.
“You’re done,” the assistant coach said, grabbing him and setting him on the motionless floor. The athlete, out of breath and still shocked, nodded and stepped back.
He ran hard. He didn’t know yet if he’d make the team.
It’s easy to get lazy with your life.
Whether our life circumstances are simple or complicated, we can always find excuses or pseudo-spiritual platitudes to use in answering the question of why we’re living the way we’re living. Easy to spot are the countless variations of God wants me to be happy and it’ll all work out in the end (the first is untrue, the second an enormous oversimplification). Trickier are the ones that dance around fear or pride or selfishness and paint them as logical, acceptable, and rightfully normal.
Instead of calling fear, fear, and declaring the truth that it is not, nor ever will be, from God (2 Tim. 1:7), we pretend it’s not at the root of our constant hesitation and insecurity.
I’m not comfortable with going there [to that place I’ve never been, so I’m afraid of it].
I’m just not outgoing [because I’m afraid I’ll have nothing to say and people will think I’m dumb/boring/a waste of life].
Or in the case of pride, we relabel arrogance and self-infatuation as self-confidence and self-branding.
They don’t have to follow me if they don’t want. [But if they don’t, they’re missing out.]
Then there’s selfishness, which comes in so many shapes and forms — and arguably, is the root of both fear and pride.
We allow fear to rule us because, in our selfishness, we don’t want to ever be caught failing. Why risk failure when you can live up to someone else’s standards of success right where you are, never mind the fact that you are capable of improving, of pushing harder? We allow pride to take over, because when we elevate ourselves above others, we fulfill our selfish wishes to be number one at all costs.
One of my pet peeves on Pinterest are the quotes that roll around about cutting people out of your life who don’t, basically, feed your narcissism. I understand the need to create distance from people who purposefully tear you down, but the reality is that the people who are the hardest to be friends with — because their glaring insecurity makes them unpleasant and exhausting to spend time around — they actually need friendship the most. And if you embrace challenging friendships, they can grow you in ways you didn’t know you needed to grow.
To cut people out of your life because you just can’t handle them or don’t click or have nothing in common is not only self-serving — it’s wrong. Especially if you claim to be a Christian, because loving the “unlovable” is what the Creator did in sending His Son for the creations that screwed themselves up.
I’m almost halfway through reading the Bible in a year, and I just started Jeremiah, which is one of my favorite prophetical books.
Jeremiah is all about God calling His people to repent and turn back to Him with their whole hearts — not with empty words, but with the core of who they are.
“O Jerusalem,” He says in chapter 4, verse 14,
“wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your vain thoughts lodge within you?”
That question struck me.
I know that I harbor thoughts that grieve the Spirit. Fearful thoughts, prideful thoughts, selfish thoughts, impure thoughts, mocking thoughts, judgmental thoughts. My mind is always whirling with ideas and images and what I just read, and there’s always something in me that isn’t fully aligned with His purpose for His daughter.
And it’s not just my thoughts. It’s also my actions — or many times, my inactions.
“To him who knows to do good and does it not, to him it is sin,” reads James 4:17, and while this verse has convicted me into taking the extra step to do small bits of good — corralling those stray grocery carts in the parking lot so they won’t hit someone’s car, holding the door open extra long to help the straggler in — there are still so many times when I shy away from doing good because it’s outside of my comfort zone or I’m just not outgoing. Never mind that I’ve been outside of my comfort zone for an entire six months and I can be outgoing if I have to (thank you, six years of working food service).
I make those excuses and I live by them, allowing false ideas of myself and my capabilities to build walls around the person Jesus died to set free.
What would the church look like if we stopped letting lies define our boundaries? How would our lives look different if we didn’t measure them with the same stick — of money, fame, comfort — that the world does?
I’m not saying we should be irresponsible, but I can honestly say that my own strong sense of responsibility in terms of my career and life trajectory often feels like chains around my neck. And not the kind you buy at a jewelry store.
What does it look like to “lay aside every weight” in an age that idolizes, in some settings, workaholism and, in other settings, pleasure? What does it look like to embrace God’s calling on our lives and “run with patience the race that is set before us“?
My current journal has a Jane Austen quote on the front:
“Know your own happiness.”
Quick interpretations outside of the quote’s context would consider this a very selfish statement to put on the cover of a book for one’s thoughts. My idea of it goes deeper:
I’m a young woman finding my way in a world that is broken but full of possibilities. I can’t measure my life by the lives of my peers or my older brothers or other people I admire. God’s call on my life is singular. His calling for me is not the same as His calling for Jeremiah or Paul or Mother Teresa or Tim Keller. His calling for me is not the same as His calling for my parents or any one of my siblings. His calling for me is not the same as His calling for each of His other writers. His calling for me is just that — His calling for me.
And that’s scary, because that means there are a lot of unknowns. There’s the freedom I have right now in singleness, which I can easily see lasting for years to come. There’s the freedom in being college-educated and debt-free and young and healthy and childless.
But see how fear paints freedom?
With fear as my contacts, I see freedom as unknown, something to tremble at and worry about. With restored vision, freedom isn’t scary. It’s exciting. It’s not something to worry about, it’s something to start marking up notebooks with all the good things that could happen by embracing freedom.
With true freedom, the only direction you won’t run is toward destruction. Which isn’t to say, I’m free so now I’m flawless, but we only take the path toward destruction when fear, pride, or selfishness is ruling our hearts. When those things are cast out, the roads we run don’t even have potholes.
Running is our calling.
What that looks like for me, what that looks like for you — it may be different, when we talk specifics, but overall it will involve love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (here’s what it won’t involve).
Those are results — the fruit — of a life spent running hard after God’s call.
I want to be that athlete on the treadmill, giving it all I’ve got until I can’t give anymore and the next thing I know, He’s telling me, “Well done.”