I read a book “Jesus is Better Than You Imagined” by Jonathan Merritt and it made me think, a lot. I had ten pages of notes after the first read, notes that I had no intention of taking when I started to read the book. The JIBTYI notes series is my efforts to process those notes, thoughts, memories and revelations
In the introduction the book starts out with the author painting a picture of how he has pursued God his whole life, yet has missed him. Like so many of us he was raised believing in a distant angry headmaster for a god, one that always seemed different to the Jesus shows in the bible.
Knowing something is missing, he presses in, trying to understand God he takes on more and more responsibilities. Eventually he is so busy that there is no time for God and he feels lost and pretty much ready to give up, which is when he cries out to God. I have to wonder if that is not in fact the moment that God called to him, that moment when God awakened his heart, which in turn caused the reaction to cry out to God?
How many people throughout history, myself included, have fervently pursued God only to miss or lose Him too? From religious wars to religious extremists who preach hate instead of love. One of the challenges I faced early in my adult Christian life, probably a couple of years in, was feeling the need to try and fit in. The need to try and change who I was so I could be like the nice people at churches who say and think nice things all the time, always. At least that is what I saw and heard, regardless of what was being presented, while there are certainly many cases of masks being worn at churches, I think this points more to my issues of self-esteem and inadequacy than anything anyone else was doing.
Chapter one proper of the book follows Jonathan on a journey to a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico with a friend where he would take a vow of silence for the duration of his stay. The chapter painted a great picture of that oh so familiar call to slow down, to shut up and listen. Something I have been hearing a lot of this year. In fact the two things I have heard more this year than anything are to slow down and be still before God and also to use my story more to bring honor to Him.
Sometimes I ask myself why I am always trying to squeeze God in? Why am I fighting time, multi-tasking with what should be number one? Yet how do you slow down without throwing your life away? Say no to something good to say yes to something better they say. I get that, but at the same time, I am me, I am incredibly flawed and I’m just trying to do the best that I can.
Taking time on a morning is a great idea, except I struggle to wake up early, just as I struggle to go to sleep early. Maybe I should spend time with God at night then, this is a great idea too, except half the time I’m tired and unfocused. I really should pick at least one day a week to just sit and meditate instead of playing a few games of FIFA on the PlayStation while my family sleeps. I really should, maybe one day I will.
The monastery setting was intriguing to me. I wasn’t aware that there were monasteries in the USA, let alone the next state over, a good 10+ hour drive but still the next state. The setting seemed very appealing to me, a completely basic existence, surrounded by monks, being led in prayer, so peaceful. It seemed like a great place to visit, to spend some seriously focused time with God, to reset your world GPS so to speak. Maybe one day I’ll visit, probably not, but maybe. I had an odd recollection whilst reading this chapter. I remembered a time in my early twenties, when life was not exactly all that it could have been, when, even though I was not a Christian, I had thought about joining a monastery.
I thought I wasn’t a Christian, at the time I would have told you I wasn’t, however looking back now, deep down I still believed, at a subconscious level there was still a connection to God that had been formed in my childhood. The idea I had in my desperate thought to join a monastery, was how wonderful it would be to get away from the world. Not to have to deal with the day to day, the chaos, the pain. To have just a simple existence, with a simple set of rules that I could follow, not to be able to screw my life up any more than I believed I already had.
I never did anything more than think about it, yet the recollection showed me something of my subconscious. At a time when I was as far from God as I had ever been, somehow the only notion I had to save myself from the pain was to run to God, even if that is not how I would have phrased it at the time, at the time it was not to serve God, just to escape from the world and from my lack of a place in it. To run from my failures, oh how I see that memory differently today.
Have you ever wanted to run from your failures? Did you ever do anything about it? How did it work out?