Summer is quickly approaching and one of my favorite things about being a youth pastor is that I still get to attend camp every year! Admittedly, camp is a different experience leading a group of teenagers than it is being a teenager, but it’s still a highlight for me even as an adult. There’s just something about escaping the normal noise and stressors of life to spend a week tuning into what God might be trying to invite me to. Of course, as I’ve continued walking with Jesus into adulthood, I’ve come to understand that God is always trying to breakthrough the busyness of my life to reach me and I don’t have to go away to camp for a week to experience his nearness.
A.W. Tozer explains it like this,
“Let us say it again: The Universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
That being said, this “pursuit of God”, as Tozer has put it, is something I’ve attempted to more intentionally practice over the last several years, and is something I am still learning a lot about. Being on staff at a church, I get the benefit of hearing from others and their personal experiences with God on a regular basis, and I’ve come to realize that this is both a huge benefit and a potential stumbling block for me. Personal stories are helpful. They give us context, give us hope, and allow us to consider possibilities maybe we hadn’t before. And, in my case, they can also lead to overthinking and comparison if I’m not careful. This is where I found myself about a week ago. It turns out I have been stuck in this place for… cough cough, awhile, (specifics aren’t important here) and it took an honest moment from a friend to help me realize it. “I see everyone else having these clear ‘a-ha!’ mountaintop moments with God, and I’m not frustrated by it, I’m just not getting clarity around anything.”
“Yeah, well, comparison sucks.”
Have truer words ever been spoken? Why was I hearing these words like I’d never considered them before? Comparison does suck and it’s a real weakness of mine, I’ll admit. Just when I feel like I’ve slayed my social media addiction with setting screen time limits, or accepted that maybe God didn’t mess up by not giving me even the slightest desire to perfect my chocolate chip cookie recipe (Who am I kidding? I don’t have a chocolate chip cookie recipe.), comparison shows up in my spiritual life. Seriously? For my fellow houseplant lovers, I liken comparison in my spiritual life to a pesky mealy bug infestation sucking the sap right out of my precious cactus. Comparison sucks the joy and wonder right out of my unique and personal relationship with God. Just like mealy bugs, comparison is a major problem and it needs to be dealt with fast — with rubbing alcohol and a toothbrush. Actually, that last part is just for your cactus. Didn’t know I was writing a houseplant blog, did you? You’re welcome.
I repeated it to myself, “Comparison sucks…” Did God just use my friend’s honest words to help me cut through the noise of comparison hindering my relationship with God?
Twenty-four hours later I talked to my friend again.
“I think you’re always abiding. I don’t think you need the mountaintop.”
I’m sorry, what? Trying to explain this feels a little like trying to explain an inside joke. Maybe that last sentence doesn’t resonate with you, but believe me when I say, that statement has helped me to loosen the grip of comparison I didn’t even realize I had. Comparison was hindering my ability to notice and acknowledge the activity of God in my life and I was oblivious to it. I’m not trying to be dramatic y’all, but God is all up in my business right now. I think he always has been, I’ve just been looking for him through someone else’s experience instead of my own.
I’m an introvert and an internal processor. That means I am a deep thinker, but usually unwilling to share what’s floating around inside my head until it’s tied up with a pretty bow and I’ve considered how voicing it might positively or negatively impact those around me and/or their perception of me. Sound exhausting? It is. I’m realizing I sometimes skip the processing because if I don’t process, I don’t have to act, or share, or handle the consequences of processing, whatever they might be. Writing is a form of processing that I enjoy. It’s controlled, and I’m not actively reading someone else’s reception of my unpolished thoughts or ideas in real time. Whew, even typing that out gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’m slowly but surely coming to believe that processing is worth the risk. Even external, in-the-moment, processing. I said slowly, remember? The truth is, God is showing me that I have people in my life that I can trust with the tender stuff. God has gifted me with a mind that thinks deeply and an ability to communicate clearly. My willingness to share my heart and opinions, while it might feel risky, honors the gifts God has given me. He’s also showing me that his finger prints are all over the moments that make up my life. If I’m willing to sit with them a little longer, He shows up. Or rather, I notice he’s been there all along.
If you’re reading this and you find yourself spiritually stuck like I’ve often found myself, questioning why God seems to be encountering everyone except for you, would you reach out to me? I’d love to encourage you in your pursuit of God. I’m not an expert, but I’d love to hear more about your experience, positive or negative. Our relationship with God is often thought of as a personal pursuit, but God never intended us to be on this journey alone. Reach out. I won’t make it weird, promise.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Frederick Buechner that speaks to the importance of processing even the most ordinary moments that make up our lives. It struck me this week in a significant way and just might be inspiration for my next tattoo. Don’t worry G-ma, I’ll pray about it first 😉
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”― Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life
Read that quote again, and as you do, would you open yourself up to believing that what he is suggesting about God could actually be true? The pressure is off for you to encounter God in ways that you see others encountering him. Mountaintops or morning commutes. Worship services or washing dishes. Silence and solitude or Sonic slushies. There is room to recognize him in every mundane, boring, average moment that makes up your day. Life itself is grace.
Be encouraged, friends.