Thursday, June 9, 2011

God is never what we expect

Growing up my dad managed to film almost every major milestone of mine and my siblings lives. As I got older, it got to be embarrassing. Not too many of my friends had to get filmed before their senior prom- pictures were much cooler. But in hindsight, I'm so thankful to have all those memories. In fact my siblings and I are frequently teased for how often we actually watch those videos. 

I remember one in particular where I'm sitting at our linoleum top kitchen table with my mom and dad; I must have been about two. My mom is asking me lots of questions in order to document my burgeoning vocabulary. Questions like, "What is your name?", "How old are you?", "Who's your best friend?"-- I knew the answer to that one. It was Jesus. I'm fairly confident my two year old mind didn't fully understand that concept, but it was a sweet moment to catch on tape regardless. 

To this day I have grown up with that expectation, that Jesus would be my best friend. Even in my current, slightly cynical state, I can't deny that there have been times in my life where He has been exactly that. Each of those times were sweet, unexpected moments of perfect peace; quick realizations of how I was treasured by God. But as lovely as those moments were, they almost never came when I asked for them. They have never come in my times of deepest despair. Never when I begged God, "All I want is to know that you're there, that you love me!" Sometimes I wonder what kind of best friend goes MIA every time a real need comes up. God is never what I expect. Belden Lane says in The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, "Our image of God doesn't prepare us for a truth realized in brokenness. We need to be shaken out of our expectations."

If I had it my way, I'd have the mountain top experience of God every time. Day and night, every moment, let me just camp out there. I would have done EXACTLY the same thing Peter did on the mount of transfiguration: God is finally something I can see, something I'm overwhelmed by, something I have no words for. Naturally, I want to stay there as long as possible. But even as Peter was in mid-sentence, God interrupts, tells him to listen, and then everything is back to normal. Then they have to come down. 

The desert, the ground level, the place of mundane activity, is where life happens. Lane says, "Spirituality is not the sublime transcendence of everything trivial and matter-of-fact. In Western spiritual tradition, the journey of the soul into the vale of ordinariness is an equally good, if not surer route to holiness. This is the way of being wounded, of being committed to the concrete, of being bound to the familiar." The harshness of the desert "disclaims the false niceties of home, the small lies and pretences by which an entire life can sometimes be shaped....The fragile ego loses is props and supporting lines. Its incessant need for validation is ignored." I wouldn't say that all my expectations of God growing up have been lies, but a lot of them have gone unmet. The desert teaches you that our expectations put an infinite God into a box. It teaches you not to try and shove God into a tent on a mountain top. 

I'm in a spiritual desert right now. I seem to be here a lot. Things look barren and lifeless. And while there is lots to be learned while I'm here, I can take comfort in the fact that my brokenness is leading me somewhere. "The God of scripture is equally revealed in vulnerability and in triumph. This is because both actions are rooted in love. Divine love is incessantly restless until it turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty, all embarrassment into laughter. In biblical faith, brokenness is but an expression of a love on its way to completion."


  1. My dad once remarked to me about how mountain top experiences are great, but if you want to eke out a living, you are probably going to seek a valley. I've always found this profound and a great comfort in extended periods of spiritual dryness (which seem all to frequent these days). But I appreciate this theme of desert, I think it's good to discover that we are formed in small acts of obedience and faithfulness when the emotional experience isn't as present, as it is in the big experience!

  2. I agree! But it's so hard to be obedient in the desert. My immature mind reasons, "if you're not going to put forth the effort to meet with me, God, then why should I even try?" But I long to be faithful, a Hebrews11 sort of Christian who hopes in the promises of God even without seeing them in this life. As painful as that sounds, it's who I want to be. Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. yeah, I hear you!. One of the things I've been commenting on lately is that it seems to me that if we're comparing Christianity to other religions in terms of marketability for spiritual experience, Christianity is never going to win. Because while spiritual experience is certainly part of the journey, Christ's teachings are pretty much saying that the significantly spiritual life is experienced in self-sacrifice and mundaneness. Try marketing that ;)