I turned 23 yesterday, I'm very single, I don't love my job, I have tiny wrinkles on my forehead (doom!) and I still don't really understand how to actually live. When I was younger, people in their 20s seemed so old and mature and responsible. It came as a shock to realise it's all a bit of a sham and despite my best efforts I'm still just a bit lost.
The more I learn, the more I realise I don't know a thing. Where I thought I'd find answers, I've just found more questions. I've experienced more – more success, more fun, more failure, hurt and brokenness. But somehow I still don't get it. It pains me to admit that at 23 years old, after all the time I've had to 'grow up' I have no idea what it means to 'give your life to Jesus.'
It's a Christian go-to phrase that tends to be thrown around as if it will suddenly make everything abundantly clear. It makes it seem so simple: all you need to do is take one step and the rest of your life will fold out neatly in front of you like a map. Make one decision, one symbolic gesture, put on your 'I heart Jesus' t-shirt and go forth in God's name to change the world. I mean, isn't it obvious?
Unfortunately, despite the authority with which this catch phrase is usually delivered, it still doesn't help me. No matter which way I look at it I don't understand what 'giving your life to God' actually looks like in my real, everyday life. My life isn't something I can pick up and hand over to God, it isn't something I can actually see or touch. It isn't a feeling like love, that I can demonstrate by showing affection.
My 'life' is an abstract concept where I stumble around in the world, trying to do the right thing, pay the bills, go to church, be nice to people, then time passes, I go to bed, get up the next morning and do it all again. How exactly do I give that to someone? I get the concept, making a commitment to follow Christ, honouring Him in the way you live your life and all that jazz.
But this morning I got up late (again) and went to work late (again). I sat around looking at how messy my desk is, wondering how a girly girl like me ended up in a job where I have a box of nails and a palm nailer sitting on my desk. I replied to some emails, I ate half a box of roses chocolates, complained about how hot the air con was (first world problems!), sent more emails, then went home to get ready for the 21st at which I had the conversation that sparked this little rant (aren't you glad?).
I call myself a Christian, but when I look back on my day I can't help thinking there is nothing there that shows I've 'given my life to Jesus.' Oh wait, when I was driving home I was thinking about a friend who is in hospital and thought I should pray for him. It went along the lines of 'God, I don't even know what to say. This sucks. Please fix it." Super spiritual right there.
I think we forget that life can be just so ordinary. As a church we thrive on inspirational stories of passion and miracles, rather than the nitty-gritty, practical reality of doing Christianity in our every-day lives. Not the 'and then the pain in my hand went away' or the 'after I prayed for her she gave her life to Christ' or even the 'I felt God say to me…'
I'm talking about the boring stuff. The days you don't have an amazing spiritual experience. The days you don't open your bible. The days you barely think about God at all. Don't get me wrong, I love a good inspirational story. I'm not denying that amazing spiritual experiences do happen. I just think that when we only hear stories of great triumph and super-spirituality we get scared that because we don't feel like that all the time we aren't doing it right. It builds an unrealistic expectation of what the everyday life of a Christian is.
For years I was let down by my own unrealistic expectations. At church I watched a continuous procession of 'real Christians' share testimonies of all the amazing things God was doing in their lives. I would go home and cry and beg for something, anything to make me feel what everyone else seemed to be feeling.
All I wanted was to be a part of the adventure everyone seemed to be on. I had this idea that Christianity was like a game with different levels – "congratulations, you have earned 10 God points. Collect one spiritual gift and move on to level 3. Choose wisely, level 3 may contain a SPIRITUAL ATTACK!!!"
I thought that all I needed to was to get to the level where I felt like I could be satisfied that I was a 'good' Christian with a 'strong' faith and a 'close' relationship with God. I felt like everyone was in on the secret, except me. I thought it was my fault. Clearly I wasn't worthy. Clearly I wasn't loved.
A life-giving realisation
It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that there isn't actually anything wrong with me (OK, that was a big call. There are definitely more than a few things wrong with me… But that's for another day). I have had to learn that I'm still a Christian even when I'm not feeling 'in-tune' with the spirit. I've had to learn that sometimes we go through quiet times. I've had to learn that everyone is different and that maybe I wasn't created to have incredible visions and life-changing prophesies.
I have had to learn to find God in the small things. More importantly, I've had to learn to find God in the hard times as well as the victories. I've had to learn that God works in ways I cannot begin to comprehend. I've had to learn that I can't always be in control.
So I continue to stumble around doing this thing called life. I still have my freak-outs. I still have lessons that I need to learn and re-learn. I still have 66 million questions and not nearly as many answers. But I will keep looking for them.
I continue to search for God among the mess because at the end of the day, even if I'm a bit confused about the journey I know I'm working towards something great. I am very much a work in progress. But that's OK, it just means God hasn't finished with me yet.
Casey Murray works in marketing for a company that sells nail guns, where she eats large amounts of chocolate and wears pretty dresses in an attempt to avoid becoming 'one of the boys.' In her spare time she enjoys inappropriate conversations with friends and writes to try and make sense of it all.
Casey Murray's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/casey-murray.html