Some adults reaching their 40s try to make one last, desperate attempt to hang onto the past. Maybe they buy a sports car, take a vacation in the Caribbean, or – like the characters in the movie “City Slickers” – try to prove their masculinity by spending a week driving cattle! Others realize that it’s about time to finally grow up. They put away the “Grecian formula” and stop worrying about the strands of grey that increasingly pepper their hair. They decide to stick with a job for longer than just a few years. They begin to think seriously about what it means to raise their kids to be responsible adults (and just in time, too!). They may begin to question some of those things they’ve been so certain about for so long, whether it’s religion or politics or the importance of pro sports!
Next month marks my 40th “birthday” as a Christian and I find myself wrestling with similar issues on a spiritual level. It was easy when I was a kid to simply believe that God is good, He’s always loved me, and as long as I believe in Him I’ll go to heaven. But I find myself now struggling with really knowing God. My Dad asked me a couple months ago what I thought God thinks of me. After a few moments of pondering, I realized that the one word standing out in my mind is “disappointed.” I’m sure part of that comes simply from the realization of how many times I have let down my wife (and others) in ways big and small. But as I’ve continued to think about my dad’s question and my response, I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that, in spite of my very real, very strong, very heartfelt desire to serve God and glorify Him, I nonetheless fail frequently, and each time I do, I feel God’s haunting look of disappointment. (What’s even more concerning is that I’m afraid I’m giving my 13-year-old son reason to feel the same from me. At least I have some cognitive theological recognition that my view of God may be slightly skewed; I’m not sure my son does yet.)
At an even more personal level, I am at the same time struggling with allowing God to truly transform me – my actions as well as my view of Him. I’m afraid of what the short-term impact of that transformation may be: Will all my hidden sins be broadcast for the world to see? Will my wife and family accept a transformed me? What will transformation cost me? It is a colossal struggle that Paul captured well in Romans 7, a battle between good and evil, light and dark, Luke and Darth Vader (sorry!)…. Maybe I am less concerned with the outcome than I am with the process – I want the result but not the struggle, the gold medal but not the marathon.
In less than a month I’ll be going to Liberia, with the conviction (from others who know the country far better than me) that it is a land in need of transformation. But how can I bring that message when I am so desperate for the same? I hope and pray that God will reveal Himself to me in new ways in these last weeks, that I may go with the hope-filled message that God can and does work in us, even when we struggle against Him. I go with the hope that if God can use a murdering fundamentalist like Saul/Paul, then certainly He can use me, too.