“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.
O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.”
–Psalm 115:1-4, 8-11
Sorry we haven’t spoken in six months. I bet you’re dying to know how I’m doing. Where do I start? I guess the thing most present to my mind is that I’ve learned a terrible truth about myself recently–
I am ambitious, and idolatrously so.
Recently, when I was out with some friends, a medical resident (someone I hadn’t met before) asked me what I “did” and I said that I was a barista and aspiring writer. He sighed a disinterested, “Oh” and fell silent, as if he didn’t know how to speak to someone who made coffee, wiped tables, and cleaned bathrooms. I could have gnashed my teeth through bridge cables. Instead, I bit my lip and talked about baseball.
If that sounds like I was being defensive/sensitive, I was.
As you know, since we left graduate school, I’ve been on a feverish pace. By the time I was 25, I had published in a trade journal, managed my own staff, met regularly with senior government officials and company executives, and was appointed to the adjunct faculty of a medical school. I also led a Bible study and coached basketball for middle-school boys. I wasn’t used to feeling like I had nothing to offer, nothing of value. It was my pride that took exception to “Oh,” more than any intentional condescension on his part (there probably wasn’t any).
Back then, I would complain about the stress of my schedule and draw self-pitying pleasure when others marveled, “How do you do it?!” You, on the other hand, when I complained, would always ask: “Why do you do it?” I hated you for asking it, but now, as a lowly aspiring writer, it’s the question that I contemplate more.
I think I parried with some of my favorite Christian cliches like “being a good steward of my resources”, or “this is where God has called me right now.” If I was feeling defensive: “Having ambition or plans is not a vice.”
It was a delicate deception: those were all true, but they had nothing to do with the state of my heart. In those inner chambers, I reveled in ornamenting my bio with hard work, coveting the resumes of people who had accomplished much more at my age. It was easy to follow God when God’s calling just so happened to align with my own “success.”
Well, do you want to know a secret?
It was easier for me to be loving, gracious, hospitable, patient, and merciful (i.e. Christian) back then too. Though I did try to cultivate these qualities in my heart, I now see that it was my security that allowed for it. And it was not the eternal security that the death and resurrection of Christ has purchased; it was the security afforded by a promising career track, an accumulating 401k, and an expanding network of influences. Outwardly, it all looked good, but inwardly, the foundation was misplaced.
It’s all Mammon, Odette.
Sorry if this all seems like a lot.
When I lay my sins before God, sometimes they are hard to pinpoint amidst my own complexity. Mostly, I just throw my pile of dirty laundry at God and say, “You sort this out. I don’t need to see what’s there.” The inability (or unwillingness) to scrutinize, with precision, my own sin is a convenient shield. If I can’t identify it, I can lift up my problems to God in a mysterious abstraction. I can forget that I am a real fleshy, bony, sinner parched for mercy and grace.
So I pray for the acuity to see and understand my own sin. I pray for the willingness to confront and present it, clearly, to God.
Pausing to reflect on what I’ve written here so far, I wonder if I’m telling you too much. Maybe you’re not safe enough.
What if you treat me differently, or you think less of me, now that I’ve revealed something more grotesque? I would hate for you to think of me as a phony of a virtuous Christian. I swear I’m not a phony, it’s just more complicated than it appears.
There is no cheap love in earnest confession, I suppose. As you always say, what makes friendship most praiseworthy is when we dare one to truly love the other (and all the more when we rise to meet the challenge). I’m reminded of my favorite passage from Lewis that there won’t be an absolutely safe person, no perfect embodiment of love, outside of Christ:
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one… Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable… The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
–C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”
I can’t wait to hear back from you. Mostly because the anticipation for how you’ll deal with me now is excruciating. But if Christ is willing to lay down his life for us, who am I to not lay down my walls for you?