From my spot on our old quilt, I sipped tiny sips of scalding-hot cider and watched the mist lift from the mountains. Before me spread a dense ocean of trees, still green despite the nippy wind and frost on the grass, and there in a valley I could just make out a little white church house and a winding road. There was something so sweet and serene about this perspective, and I felt a peace, deeper and more joyful than anything I had ever felt before, settle on my shoulders and bleed through to my heart. Shalom. The muscles in my chest fell slack, and finally I was able to really breathe, in all senses of that word. It was a moment of rare perfection – something I will remember in days to come.
I have had few experiences in my life where I have felt the Spirit move in me. More often than not, I feel only frustration, or I am too distracted by other, more pressing matters (i.e. my appearance) to feel anything at all. It’s hard to focus. I have always had trouble keeping my mind on anything that wasn’t strictly entertaining or emotionally fulfilling, and sometimes sermons fall under that umbrella. Growing up a Christian is hard anywhere, but America is its own kind of difficult. Rather than spiritual warfare, Americans battle constant distraction. We accept abundance without a thought and sleepwalk through our spirituality like zombies. I think this is why the idea of the mission field is so appealing to me – I want to see and feel God.
Recently, in a sermon, my pastor made this point: to love God doesn’t necessarily mean to have warm, fuzzy feelings; it can simply mean to obey Him. While this reality is relieving, I also find it somewhat depressing. In any relationship, feelings are of central importance to me, and sometimes obeying God feels like taking orders from a stranger. I want warm, fuzzy feelings. I want to mean what I sing in praise and worship. I want to always recognize my need for a Savior, not only when I sin but when life is going well for me, too.
For years, my heart was closed to grace. I couldn’t see God working through the pain in my life, so I quit seeking Him and relied on my own feeble powers to solve my problems. Sometimes, when I listened to certain songs, the beauty would leave me with a terrible yearning, so strong it was almost painful. I longed to know the Maker of all beautiful things, but my efforts towards building a relationship with Him seemed thrown away. It was only when my sin had brought me to a very low point that something changed within me, and I realized the truth in what I had been told my whole life: the wages of sin is death. I couldn’t do it on my own anymore – didn’t want to. And oh, the wonderful calm that followed my surrender!
I still struggle every day with frustration and exhaustion, but I believe that God will purpose my struggling into something beautiful for His glory. And feelings will come in time, through prayer and obedience – this I believe, too.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11