A line from something I recently read…
“We want a spirituality of success and ascent, not a spirituality of failure and descent. We want a spiritually of improvement, not a spirituality of transformation. But the way of the cross is the way of descent, abandon and death. This is the foolishness of the gospel.” pg. 87 Surrender to Love by David Benner
For some people I could just leave this here. These few sentences say enough. But I want to share the conviction this brings for me personally.
A facet of my personality is what I call “what’s next.” In things small and big I have a need to either be working toward or at the very least aware of what’s next. Being still is difficult for me. I have often written and taught about aiming for a spiritual journey with ease, like catching the natural current of a river, but in reality, I live my faith more like I’m trending water, or climbing a ladder. It’s a struggle for me not to try to “level up.” And this trickles down into my parenting, my marriage, how I pray, meditate, reflect. That’s why I often share on being still, or resting in God’s grace. I’m trying myself. And even in that, I convince myself I could “rest better”, “be still at the next level.”
What struck me about these lines is the emphasis on descent, and the distinction between improvement and transformation.
I write about being still, but what about the moments when I feel I’m more on a downward spiral? The descent arrives, and I fight it. There is a brokenness that accompanies the gospel. I can praise the gift of the cross, but downplay how sometimes it can feel like sheer release, a “letting go” that feels more like being dropped out of God’s hands. Sometimes, when things drop, they break. The “good news” is that God descended. Yet we tend to find ourselves behaving as if God’s primary location is above, something to be aspired to rather than received where we are. It is both.
If the goal is transformation over improvement, how do we transform? Take a pliable object. Take what it is and transform it. Most likely something is stretched, something is pulled. Keep going with our experiment, progressing to a less and less pliable/bendy item each time. Eventually, in order to transform the it you hold in your hand it has to be totally broken apart. I tend to prefer the improvement route. Put a bow on something, slap on some type of adornment, make what I have better, but break what I have to pieces, no thank you.
I don’t believe that God is anti-self-improvement. I’m all about reading, learning and developing. Still, I’m not sure transformation can be packaged into a self-help book or delivered as a workshop or seminar. Transformation can be sudden or slow, often only noticed in retrospect. “That’s when I matured.” “Oh, that’s what God was doing, that’s how I was being shaped and prepared.” I think maybe true improvement is the residue from a life submitted to God’s transformation. But “Here I am Lord” can be scary words.
“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” Abraham replied. – Genesis 22:1
“And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!” “Here I am,” Jacob replied. – Genesis 46:2
“God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” – Exodus 3:4
“Then I (Isaiah) heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ And he said, “Behold, I am here, Lord.” – Acts 9:10
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” – Luke 22:42
Rarely sought, more often discovered, transformation doesn’t necessarily look like the world’s portrait of improvement. Just revisit some of the scenes from scripture referenced above.
When I treat my spirituality as an uphill climb to an apex, a way to avoid/leave behind my life below, I wonder if I don’t risk missing some aspects of God’s involvement in my life all together. Maybe you are more at ease with your faith, allowing God to unfold the “what’s next” portions of your life, or maybe, you are like me, a little more intense and worried, always trying to fix and figure out all the things up ahead. Or perhaps you are stuck in the past, fixed to a landmark from long ago, not pushing forward but also not letting go. Take a moment to ask, “Where am I?” and, “Can I walk in the foolishness of the gospel?”