Saving Up

Saving Up

Tonight it hit me squarely for the first time – how many years have I spent saving my living up for later?

I was raised in a wonderfully loving and deeply conservative family and community. There are tensions in that combination that can be hard to hold together, but when it’s all you know, you don’t notice them. They taught me to hold on to what’s good, but I also learned to avoid what might be risky. The good things had to be protected from any possible taint. It was a “purity culture” that went well beyond sex. Every choice – even among things that weren’t “bad” – had ramifications for the rest of my life (and eternity), so I had to avoid anything that might compromise my future marriage, vocation, calling, or ministry. If I spent a choice on a date, or piercing my ears, or even my college and major, it might limit the good God could use me to do. So I saved up. I made safe choices.

I began choosing to stop that savings plan in a big way a few years ago, somewhere in the fallout of turning 40. Half my life (if I’m lucky) is gone, and I wanted – needed – something to change. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I’ve never found other words to express the reality I was experiencing: I was slowly dying. Getting smaller. Fading out. There was just…less of me.

And I didn’t – wouldn’t – believe that was all God had for me in this life. I began to think maybe he wasn’t actually waiting for my faith to mature enough, or for “his perfect timing.” Maybe, while I was “waiting on him” as faithfully as I knew how, trying my best not to make a step that might endanger his will for my life, maybe God wasn’t waiting at all.

Maybe God was doing his thing in the world – giving love, creating beauty, and making peace, as my friend Frank Schaeffer would say – and what I needed to do was get out there and find his stuff and dig into all the messy goodness of it.

It didn’t happen overnight – not quite – but it did happen fast enough to leave the heads of a lot of people spinning. It left my head spinning (ten first dates in three weeks can do that!). But every new place I found myself turned out to be grounded in years of lessons gleaned, painful pruning, and hard-won trust. In the unfamiliar I kept seeing Jesus. I had never felt more disoriented in my life, and at the same time, I had never felt more grounded, more connected with who I was made to be.

Sometimes life gives us choices that change everything. They may be as small as picking up a book or choosing to accept that invitation to tag along with a friend to dinner and meet new people, or as big as walking away from a church and community of people you’ve sunk roots in with.

I’ve spent the past few years making those choices without knowing where they might take me. The journey is far from over, but they’ve already taken me to some amazing places and alongside some amazing people who’ve changed me. They’ve cracked my world open, and colors I never imagined have flooded in. Bracing winds and warming sunlight have both found deep places in my heart, and I’ve felt those places bloom open in response.

I plowed through the fear, and its echoes are fading. I’ve preached. I’ve danced. I’ve dated. I’ve leaned out an open door 99 floors up with nothing between me and the world but the wind.

I’ve stopped saving up my living and have found that as I spend it, there always seems to be more than I started with – more than I even knew was possible.

I know there are some who may read this and feel the resonance, like the tone of a bell.

Others may read and think I’m deceived or deluded. That’s okay. You could be right. I might be missing the Kingdom of God altogether. But according to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is going to look at least a bit absurd and messy with grace to us, full of all sorts of questionable characters. I’ll be grateful if I find myself among them, and in the meantime, I intend to love indiscriminately, run towards every glimpse of beauty, and seek shalom with everything in me.

And I’m going to do my best to exhaust those stockpiles of living I’ve been saving up.

-JEO