There is a phenomenon among Christian activists that causes them to sacrifice so much for others that it hurts. Call it love, call it a sense of justice, or in some cases call it penance. These believers are motivated by their faith to right wrongs on behalf of others. Some feel they have been “called” by God to sacrifice in specific ways. Others feel no particular call but indiscriminately adopt the sacrifices they see other activists making because they believe that it will bring good to the world. I was in the latter group for many years, but after a while began questioning such haphazard self-sacrifice.
A handful of years ago I stumbled across a book that changed my perspective on my faith, which in turn has changed the trajectory of my life. I like books like that. This particular one was James Bryan Smith’s “The Good and Beautiful God.”
The premise of “The Good and Beautiful God” is that Jesus had the most intimate and true understanding of who his Father was, and that if we learned how to see God as Jesus did, we wouldn’t be able to keep ourselves from falling in love with that God. That was a very appealing promise, and the more I read, the more I felt that Smith was delivering on that promise. His book shook me out of my misconceptions I’d been believing and living out for most of my life, misconceptions that left me feeling disconnected and estranged from God despite my strict obedience to him.
We all need rest from the hard work we do every day. We need to catch our breath every once in a while–a chance to drop our guard, to not be needed, and to allow ourselves to be human and receive what we need. Even for just a few moments of the day.
Nine years ago I was challenged to take more than a few minutes. For the sake of my sanity and my ministry, I set aside a whole day each week, hoping to find rest and the strength to jump back into another week with renewed energy. Many faith-filled people refer to this day as Sabbath.
Most weeks I failed. Not because I didn’t take the day, but because many of the activities I thought would recharge me, didn’t. Some actually sapped energy away and made me feel less rested than when the “day of rest” had begun. But over the years of trial and error, little by little I discovered activities that replenished my energy, that brought glimpses of emotional healing to my heart, that allowed me to slow down, that made me feel like a human again after a whole week of working like a machine.
I’m not a member of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church, but I’ve been attending one for the past year. I’ve gotta say, I don’t agree with everything in their doctrine, but I’ve never felt so strongly the love of God emanating from any other pulpit. Talk of the love of God, sure, but here I actually feel it.
I’m sure it’s not every SDA church. In fact, I’ve been to two or three others that were a little weird, one in particular that creeped me out and was pretty out of touch with the world around it. But right down the street from my apartment is a place that accepts people just as they are, provides healing for the hurting and hope for the cynical (that’s me!), offers genuine hospitality, and teaches how to radically love like Jesus the people outside its four walls.
A friend teased me when I became a missionary, saying I was becoming a professional Christian. I knew my friend was joking, but the joke represented a mind frame among evangelicals that was deeply and fervently held: that pastors and missionaries and other ministers are (or ought to be) better Christians than everybody else. After all, they’re “getting paid for being a Christian.”
I don’t think it’s accurate, and I’m wondering how Christianity strayed so far from Jesus’s message that we all fall short of perfection and all need him for help.