So I’ve recently discovered that my Christian faith tends to fall into a sad and predictable cycle, complete with five phases:
Phase 1: My commitment to Jesus is primarily an intellectual one. He is an idea I believe in, not a person I follow.
Phase 2: I read through the Gospels again and realize that Jesus doesn’t want me to simply like him; he wants me to follow him.
Phase 3: I buy the latest Shane Claiborne book, read it in two days, and resolve that following Jesus means selling all my things, sleeping with the homeless, and starting a monastic community. I begin looking into the cost of apartments in inner-city Nashville.
Phase 4: I remember that I have a job, a mortgage, and a spouse (who hasn’t read Shane Claiborne).
Phase 5: Heavy with guilt and overwhelmed by the insurmountable nature of my own convictions, I give up and revert right back to Phase 1. Following Jesus, it seems, just isn’t realistic.
This cycle has been repeating itself for about three years now, but I think I may have figured out how to stop it…or at least make the ride a little less bumpy.
It seems to me that the real problem occurs between Phases 4 and 5, where—upon facing the reality of my actual life and my actual responsibilities—I not only abandon Shane Claiborne’s way of following Jesus, I abandon following Jesus altogether. I short, I make the perfect the enemy of the good. I become paralyzed by my own idealism.
The next time I sense the cycle’s about to start, I’m prepared with five mantras to remind me to follow Jesus as Rachel Evans, not as Shane Claiborne.
Love the person in front of me.
Whether it’s a stranger behind the checkout counter, a toddler who refuses a diaper change, an estranged friend, or a close family member, my calling in life is to love the person in front of me the way that Jesus would —patiently, attentively, unconditionally—moment by moment, day by day. Dostoevsky said, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in sight of all…But active love is labour and fortitude.”
Care for my community.
So much of the popular material related to justice and poverty focuses exclusively on urban issues. And yet rural poverty is real and just around the corner here in Dayton. I might not choose to sleep with the homeless, but I can donate to the local food bank, help out the storm victims, get to know the families living in the mobile home park down the road, and volunteer at Rhea County’s free health clinic. (See my comment in response to Justin's below about the realities of rural poverty.)
Live with a little less. Small decisions can have a big impact, both globally and in my attitude toward materialism. I don’t have to go all or nothing—either selling everything I own and giving the money to the poor or buying the latest big screen TV as soon as some extra cash comes my way. But I can buy fair trade coffee, stick with local produce, take a pass on the newest gadget so I can send some money to India, and help out friends by babysitting for free. And I can simplify, a little bit at a time, so that I’m more prepared—emotionally and physically— to make a more radical life change should an unexpected opportunity come along.
Push just past my comfort zone.
I have a bad habit of jumping to extremes, so I tend to be either all in or all out. And yet most of the time, loving the person in front of me doesn’t mean taking up my cross; it just means taking 15 more minutes to talk. I can’t allow my desire to be a “radical” Christ-follower prevent me from being a faithful Christ-follower. And faithfulness tends to happen in small, unglamorous acts of obedience—a grudge let go, a relationship pursued, a meal provided, an offer to help. If I am faithful in these little things, I may be entrusted with bigger things down the road, so I must remain open to new possibilities.
Follow Jesus TODAY
—not in some future state of perfection, but in messy, boring, unglamorous today. This is the only moment I am promised, and it’s the best moment to seek after God. Something tells me He can be found here.
Have you experienced a similar pattern in your life? How do you follow Jesus as YOU and not someone else?