By Brooke Luby
Everyone begins life in awareness of God. As time passes, we “grow up” and lose this awareness. As my favorite band Sleeping At Last poetically puts it:
“When the world welcomes us in, we’re closer to heaven then we’ll ever know. They say this place has changed, but strip away all of the technology, and we’ll see that we all are hunters, hunting for something that will make us okay.” (“Needle and Thread“)
As kids, we often understand intrinsically that God is here, right next to us, right in us. Then, “reality” hits. People betray us. We lose our sense of trust. We get beaten up physically on the playground, emotionally by teachers or parents or kids, and spiritually in church. The basic unifying message is that “you are not enough.”
And so we hunt. We hunt through any means possible: addiction to careers, drugs, church, sex, religious acts. All the things the protagonist in the missions trip drama dances around, before being set free by the 15 year old reluctantly playing Jesus. If we are honest we will admit, “finding God” and “accepting Jesus” in a typical “conversion” experience doesn’t make us stop hunting. In fact, the hunting it self can become an addiction.
We repent, we believe, we receive, we are changed. Now, we are told, we must do, we must work it out. We must seek God more, find God deeper. Get closer to God. Does this mean, God only gave us part of Him self when “he came into our hearts?” We’re taught this sunday school rhetoric, but I am afraid we don’t really stop to think. We sing “All I need is you” and in our hearts, we are hunting. “I need you God, so come to me, come and be my everything.”
It’s like a kid who learns for the first time in science class that without your heart beating, you will die. In panic, he asks his teacher where he can get a heart. The teacher takes the little boys hand and places it on his own chest.
If we are “saved,” God is already in us. What more can God give us then Himself?
Let’s say the little boy doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand that the “thump thump” he is feeling in his chest can possibly be the same weird bloody organ he is being showed a picture of in class. He doesn’t connect the two. So what does he do? He lives in worry and fear. He drops out of elementary school and becomes a hunter, searching for his heart. It’s a ridiculous analogy, obviously, but it seems to me like the state of so much of the church.
We are always looking for what we already have.
I spent most of my life hunting for something that would make me feel better about myself. Being a Christian felt like I was in a club where you were morally superior, and had certain duties and obligations like praying for people, and attending church. When it was all over, I was one of the few lucky ones that wouldn’t get burned to a crisp. But I didn’t feel very lucky. I tried to convince myself I was blessed and a child of God, but deep down I didn’t really believe it. I believed that nagging voice, “You are not enough. You are not smart enough, or pretty enough. You are strange. No one will ever love you.“
When I was seventeen, I experienced God’s love in a way that left me shaking and haunted, knowing that He was real and that I needed to find Him. So I gave up ideas about college and being in a relationship, and moved to the middle of nowhere east Texas. I dived head first into a program intended to help people to find God. Essentially, I was told in order to really find Him, I needed to do more. I needed to give up everything, especially any kind of entertainment or reading that wasn’t deemed “spiritual”. I was fed the importance of having godly character, being physically fit, professional, a leader, someone that stood above everyone else, a “world changer.” Then I was given a list of ways to become this. Often these step by step formulas to be a super christian were interlaced with a spoon full of grace, which I swallowed quickly, starving, but was always left unsatisfied. Ultimately, God in his grace sought me out and changed me. I realized over time all I really need to do is be with Jesus, let him love me, and that everything else will fall into place. This was an introduction to grace, but the tricky thing is that legalism mixed with a bit of grace, is still legalism.
Adding sugar to poison might make it sweet, but it is still poison.
My hunger for God was insatiable. While others went off to town to go to Starbucks and the movies, (and of course, I judged them for it) I sat on the hill behind my dorm and looked for God. One night, the sky was clear and the stars were close. The Texas night was warm and peaceful, but inside, I felt like a starving animal. I rocked back and forth on the paved path, not caring about the ants that crawled up to take a bite out of me, for I was waiting for a spiritual experience! I cried and moaned. “God come! If you don’t come, I will die.” A fierce determination, which is rare in my generally lazy nature, set in.
“God, I am not going inside until you show up! I don’t care how long it takes! I don’t care if I am here all night!“
I “pressed in” to something invisible, hoping deep down God would see my dedication and commitment and give me the fireworks show I was really asking for. I was so intense, I could have sweated blood. I stared at the dark woods before me, that the path led to, imagining a bright lighted man walking out, giving me a sign, telling me He loved me. I stared at the spot so hard, I almost convinced myself something was there. God was real, I knew that. He loved me, so why isn’t he giving me what I want? I was determined, I was dedicated. I had followed the rules. I was “setting the standard.” I had done what was asked of me, and all I wanted was to see the being I had given everything too, was that too much to ask? Minutes or hours passed and I began to feel defeated. I felt abandoned and rejected. I felt cheated. So I gave up. I picked myself of the ant covered side walk, and walked, head down, back to the dorm.
In the movie Hook Robin Williams finds himself in never never land, surrounded by the Lost boys which he once led. He has gone from the never-growing up boy hero who can fly, to a stuffy business man who is obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder and doesn’t know how to relate to his kids. In my favorite scene in the movies, Williams is face to face with the new leader, Rufio. He is convinced he is a fraud, and so are most of the rest of the boys, and Peter himself. The only one who believes in Him is Tinkerbell. In the midst of deciding whether to give him a chance, or kill him, one of the lost boys walks up to Peter. He takes off his glasses and begins feeling his face, kneading it like clay. As his small hands make his way around his eyes, he pushes back his wrinkles into a smile, and he finds what he is looking for.
“Oh, there you are, Peter!“
In that moment, Peter realizes his true identity – there is a hero inside of him, capable of leading, fighting, flying, and ultimately winning the hearts of his children back and saving the day.
That night in the field, I was desperate because I didn’t know who I was. But more tragic, I didn’t realize who God was in me. Even though I said I believed he dwelt within me, I really believed He was somewhere “out there.” And so, I believed happiness, peace, purpose, love, all the things I needed- were somehow out there. In my next accomplishment. In tomorrow. Just around the river bend. I thought what countless human beings have thought throughout the span of time, “If I just see God, it will be enough. If I just had one touch from Him… If I just had some sort of sign.”
When I was thoroughly spent in the field, I gave up, and went inside, feeling like a failure, feeling confused. I walked into my dorm room, and something caught my eye. It was my reflection in the mirror. I stopped for a moment, as if trying to recognize someone I knew that I knew, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I looked beyond my face, red and splotchy from crying, past my tear stained eyes, and into them. I stood in silence, barely breathing, looking myself in the eyes. It was then, I heard a gentle voice within me.
“Here I am.”
Brooke lives in the middle of nowhere in east Texas, trying to live, understand, and write about Grace. She makes great pasta salad. Check out her blog.