I had one of those talks with my sister, Adrienne, that only sisters can have. We were discussing a book I've been asked to review, Seven: An Experiential Mutiny against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker. I LOVE me some Jen Hatmaker. Like, let-me-inhale-everything-she's-ever-written-or-spoken LOVE HER. I was so excited to write a review on Seven because I deeply admire her ability to convict others towards active holiness through her honesty, humility, and ridiculous sense of humor.
Ok, backdrop. Seven is about taking a month at a time to root out the excess in our Christian lives. Month one begins with food, where Hatmaker committed to only eating seven foods for 31 days. From there, she reduced her wardrobe to seven articles of clothing for one month. Then possessions. Social media. Waste. Spending. The intense Seven experience was end-capped with month seven: a fast from the busy life. During this month, Jen and her family practiced Seven Sacred Pauses (Macrina Wiederkehr), where they made space for prayer and meditation seven times a day. Just wow.
Ok, personal reaction. Um, the book made me feel like crap. I felt like I had just finished reading the account of a saint. Seriously. I read about how she drove her family downtown monthly to barbecue for the homeless of Austin, and how she took part in a community gardening initiative that benefited the marginalized. Bought organic. Had a compost. Created a storage room with her friends in the off chance a refugee might need some bed sheets or a night stand. Girlfriend does all the fasting. Feeds all the people. Prays all the prayers.
Book review nothing. Life review: ugh.
This overwhelming feeling of inadequacy is so not new for me. I wish. I felt it when reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. Pretty much any book chronicling a life chasing Jesus. It's a familiar feeling; this holy despair. An unparalleled tension. I feel ready to have a full blown panic attack, worried that I am not living a life set apart enough for Jesus. I look at these authors and how the Spirit has led them on these insane journeys, and has also gifted them with the use of words. I feel so small.
So, my normal reaction to these convictions? Do I pray more? No. Do I take out my Bible and study it, waiting for the Spirit to lead me on my own journey? Do I ask Jesus to lead me into what He has for my little piece of His story? Not so much.
Instead...I get all cray cray.
After reading Seven, I partook in recycling freakishness. I started interrogating the nutrition labels at Trader Joe's. I went cold turkey with Facebook for a few weeks. It's cool. I only missed out on three Christmas parties. I would almost smirk as I drove straight past my old shopping grounds and straight into the parking lot of our local thrift store. Stupid people who shop at Gap. Darn the man. I sat my four year old down and explained how we wouldn't buy chocolate from Hershey anymore because they bought cocoa from farms in Africa that enforced child labor. She just stared at me blankly and asked, "So can I have my M&M's now?" I maniacally demanded my family rest during the Sabbath. My one year old would be throwing her pootie pie diapers down the stairs at the end of a Sunday because she was so bored.
I did it. I went all commando on saintly.
For like three weeks. Slowly, my former life crept back in. I (gasp!) threw a plastic water bottle away. I caved in and ate a whole row of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. I drove by a homeless person without a ready-made lunch in my backseat. I bought a shirt at the Gap. On clearance. But still. I felt like a failure.
This is where a moment of clarity came through a discussion with my little sis. I was explaining how I become three parts convicted and one part annoyed after reading books like Seven. How I feel like I get wrapped up in other peoples stories and convictions, and I can't separate who God's called me to be from whom God has called these authors to be. Adrienne, in her wisdom that still sometimes sidelines me, reminded me that the spirit of religion resides in both sides of the Christian spectrum. Then came this beauty:
Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams
1 Sam 15:22
Boom. Thank you Samuel, prophet of old. Sometimes, I get all caught up in the doing. In what others are doing. I see God moving in their lives and I want to join, so I can be a part of His story. What I forget is that I NEED to be obedient to the life God has called me to. That I might have another plot in His story. Sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice isn't what most delights my Savior. It's obedience to what He has made known to me.
I'm not quite sure what that is yet. I do know this: while many convictions posed by Hatmaker in Seven have taken residence in my heart, her story is not my story. I know that God wants to make my story known to me. To all of us. He is so capable. Capable of sweeping us into one massive holy story. Braided together, overlapping, back and forth, all the while creating something strong, something unique, something beautiful. Something that points ALL of our spheres of influence back towards the Creator. God. Who does all the braiding. Yes.
Please understand that I am not advocating being motionless for the Kingdom. There are mandates set forth by God that cannot be ignored. The Bible is so clear that we are to be actively pursuing justice, mercy, and holiness. That we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and live outside of ourselves until we breathe our last. However, God's Word (holler at your Samuel) also clearly says that we are to be on our faces before our Living God, asking what He has for us at this very moment, this very day, this very year that is before us.
What a remarkable posture. One of moving forward, eyes lifted upward. Love.
It's cool. Once I strike that balance, I'll let you know. But for now, I am going to rest in knowing that God is moving in Austin, Texas, and (believe it or not) the greater Chicago-land area. I will do that next right thing in front of me, but I will also pause during this insane life and continue to ask my Creator to make my story known to me.
"It's good to struggle and let the spirit and word convict in matters of truth. He gives us awesome mandates, and then there are the different ways God is original and unique with each of us."
-Adrienne Baker Bley the first. Whom I love.