I wanted to be a nun.
It would be so simple. A life committed to holy pursuits, preferably on the top of a mountain, was just what I needed. What better way to focus on the things that truly mattered in this life?
Let’s not get bogged down with the fact that I wasn’t even remotely Catholic, (I grew up Pentecostal), it was a lifestyle I daydreamed about. I think I watched The Sound of Music too many times as a child.
As a late teen, I had pretty much decided not to add the complication of marriage to my life, so really I was halfway there. I did actually care about helping people, but at best it was a mixture of compassion and delusions of grandeur.
I also struggled with depression, so while the idea of sequestering myself headlong into a life of holy service may have sounded amazing, in hindsight I’m pretty sure it would have been a disaster.
Nevertheless, I found myself at a Bible college as a World Missions major.
I don’t know what I thought mission work would be like, but it definitely wouldn’t be complicated. Mainly, there would be me, living atop some sort of peaceful mountain on the other side of the world, making my rounds to bestow gentle care and kindness to the less fortunate. After a full day of piety I would retreat back up the mountain for my nightly scripture reading by candlelight.
Yes, I realize how crazy I was.
God apparently thought so too because He ran me right into my husband at summer orientation before my freshman year of college even started. We were dating by November and married two years later. (I got my degree in Elementary Education.)
Marriage confirmed something I always knew to be true—it is much harder to be kind and loving, to be a “good” Christian, when there are other people intimately involved in your life.
I’ve always preferred the Me and Jesus (ONLY) Club. Perfect for nunnery. The problem with this club is that my peace was only as good as my mountain-top.
Peace was something that other people and circumstances took away from me. I could be peaceful—if everybody would leave me alone, or if [insert circumstance] were different.
Fast forward fifteen years and here I am, surrounded with a husband and four kids (whom I homeschool) in the inner city of Trenton, New Jersey.
Through the years, God has worked on me, teaching me His ways and directing my paths. But even today, I find this residual falsehood about peace creeping into my heart when I’m not on guard.
I no longer daydream about being a nun. And I have no delusions about the gritty nature of mission work. But the attitude still persists. It’s just in a more subtle form, more palatable to the enlightened thirty-seven-year-old that I am.
Today, it takes the form of resentment.
What’s with all these people and their pesky preference for wanting dinner every night? Why do my kids need help right now? Don’t they know I’m working on a really spiritual blog post? Doesn’t everyone know I’m trying to be peaceful?
This attitude crops up in my marriage, in my parenting, and in my homeschooling like a weed.
When I notice that my God-given blessings and responsibilities start feeling like annoying interruptions, that is my own personal big red flag.
I’ve strayed into kingdom building, rather than Kingdom Building.
When we pray “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:9-13) what we are really asking for is full integration between the things of God and our tangible lives. We are inviting God’s kingdom to come invade our own.
Alone on a mountain-top, I don’t have to compromise with anyone. There are no conflicts to navigate, no alternate plans to consider. I can do what I want to do, uninterrupted.
It has very little to do with actually following the Lord and more to with rebellion and autonomy.
Other people and adverse circumstances don’t create impatience, anger, and resentment in my heart. Those qualities are merely brought to the surface. My desire to be aloof and alone is often a tactic I use to escape having to deal with my sin. But the result is stagnation and hidden idolatry.
God is calling us to an interrupted life.
He interrupts our stiff-necked, selfish ambition, our perfectionism, and our prideful schemes. And this is painful. Why else would the Christian life be compared to crucifixion?
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”Galatians 2:20
This way of life lays down our agenda and embraces our Father’s. It takes up our cross and follows Jesus, it dies to our selfish desires and lives for His kingdom.
It recognizes why we’re here.
As Christians, there is a temptation to take our assignment, wave God away with a “no problem, I’ve got this,” and insist everyone leave us alone while we do it. But we are missing the point.
When we are followers of Jesus, we have to follow Jesus.
And Jesus did what the Father told Him to do in real time, moment by moment.
It’s not enough to fancy the idea of playing a dramatic and impactful role, helping people on our terms. Loving the people around us has to be more than a theory.
Tangibly caring for our spouses is holy work. Changing diapers with love, yet again, is holy work. Giving consistent and loving discipline to our children is holy work. So is asking for forgiveness, offering forgiveness, and beginning again.
True peace comes down with us into the trenches. It keeps our eyes focused on the Lord, our hands diligent in love, and the glory given to God.
Living alone on a mountain-top isn’t God’s plan for my life. Neither is having temperamental peace contingent upon my ability to escape my reality.
When my heart is tempted to long for those things, I come back to the cross of Jesus and see my path. One that is messy, humbling, and God-glorifying.
God isn’t calling me to a life of self-preservation or a life on overdrive. He’s calling me to a peace that surrenders each moment to Jesus.
This is a life at rest, my world in His hands.