When astronauts and cosmonauts return from the space station there is a rush to get them out of the return vehicle. They are then plopped into lawn chairs so their bodies can have some time to adjust to full gravity. It is the first step of restoring their bodies from the atrophy they experience without gravity.
Like space vehicles that carry astronauts through the freezing vacuum of space and the fiery tempest of reentry, God carries us through the hell of cancer and other crises. Then the survivors often go into a deep depression even as their bodies start getting better. During the crisis, patients and their families pour every bit of their physical, spiritual and emotional assets into the eclipsing task of survival. When the question of survival is no longer central, they are in deep emotional and spiritual deficit. That deficit has to be paid back.
It was February of 1992. I was going to live. Eventually, I would grow my hair back. The muscles, though never as toned and defined as they had been when I was a gymnast, would return so that when I jumped my toes might leave the ground.
But my spiritual self was lost and confused. I’d just had a very intense experience with God. I’d felt the Holy Spirit inside of me. It made me hungry for more. I didn’t know anyone who had the same experiences. When God stopped carrying me, I felt like he’d dumped me in a wasteland. In reality he was teaching me to exercise my spiritual muscles. Just as my leg and arm muscles needed to be rebuilt my spiritual muscles needed to be rebuilt.
As a pharisaical Christian I tried the things that I’d tried before: Bible studies, my church’s youth group, service projects, and even making plans to become a minister. Talk about the blind seeking to lead the blind! I was in a desperate search for the love that God showered upon me during my sickness. I felt that I had something special to share because God had saved me during the darkest part of my life. It took me years and years of seeking, searching and stumbling to get connected to mature Christian communities.
After more than twenty years I’m still working on being a good servant. By now I’ve identified some of the reasons why my journey was so long, arduous and frustrating. First of all, I wasn’t ready for a community of mature Christians. I could no more survive in and tolerate such a community than I could wake up one day and run a marathon without any training. I needed a steady diet of prayer and Christian fellowship.
The second biggest hurdle in my Christian journey was that I completely misunderstood the nature of being a servant of God. I thought that I was going to do great things for God, and He was going to reward me with money, power and prestige. It took me years and years and years to understand that what I did was not important. Only what God did was important. The best feeling in the universe is to be a tool in God’s hand when He is working. Too often I’ve been the hammer thinking I had a better idea than hitting the nail. A true servant of God is forged over years and decades to perfectly welcome and facilitate His will. I still have a long way to go.
My most challenging hurdle was that I didn’t start with fellow travelers, guides or mentors to lead me through the process. This was 80 to 90% my fault. I’d always taken myself too seriously. I’d was obsessively independent. That’s how I ended up with such an atrocious plan for salvation. As one of my former professors was fond of saying, “When you get singled out, you get picked off.” The Christian journey is not meant to be walked alone. It is meant to be walked with Christian brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers.
If I could go back 25 years to being the skeletal, baldheaded, traumatized boy that I was, these are the things that I very much wish that I’d done sooner:
- I would actively solicit a prayer partner, someone that I could meet with weekly. We would talk, share our challenges and pray for each other during the week.
- I would seek a mentor, an older, mature Christian who could build between my independent, egotistical self and a more selfless Christian community.
- I would find an area of service that would remind me of God’s work, and my humble place in that work.
When God lays us down, and stops carrying us through our crises, He is priming us to actively seek Him and learn to serve Him. It isn’t an easy process. It’s a long journey during which we build our spiritual muscles and become disciplined in our journey toward being at the heart of his will.