In the first few years of my faith, I aced control. Every discipline and commandment mentioned from Genesis to Revelation I took on. I was confident that my resume of church activities and student ministry involvement was rivaled only by Paul. I brought the cookies, made the coffee, led the Bible studies, and attended every conference. If there was a job God needed done, I was there.
The path toward a master’s degree in counseling from a prestigious Christian university and the successful career to follow was perfectly mapped out in my head. Not one single rest area or detour as far as I could see. Little did I know that the Lord was guiding my steps in a completely different direction.
See, control I had, but what I lacked was freedom. Was I Christian on the outside? Sure. But there wasn’t one good piece of fruit to show of it. Not to mention the restlessness that crept up behind closed doors. My works kept piling up, but they amounted to nothing. I checked off task after task, but there were pieces missing from the puzzle. I couldn’t see the whole picture that Peter talks about:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
I was choosing activity over relationships with friends and Jesus. From the outside, I appeared joyful and diligent in service, but what was under the surface was anything but admirable. I became easily irritated when I was once again called to serve. Resentment toward those who just showed up, had fun, and left began to weigh on me. My thoughts were far from what was pure and lovely. Having to control my life had created more of a burden then I could’ve imagined.
With time, all of the Christian activity began to collide with my hectic class schedule. My journalism classes were requiring more late nights of re-writes, and people were noticing I began to turn down more ice cream socials than usual. I was an accident waiting to happen. And it happened one night before our campus ministry’s weekly meeting.
I had scheduled every minute of my week as always and was anxiously waiting for the meeting to start. As I mingled in the lobby, a volunteer staff member that I had met for coffee on the rare occasion that I slowed down and talked, walked by. My schedule had prevented us from having a friendship with any depth, but what she had caught a glimpse of was not good. Before I could escape to my seat she pulled me aside and leaned real close.
"Meredith, I just don’t think that your heart is in the right place."
I walked away angry, stunned, and a little relieved. The blow to my pride kept me silent for days. Someone had seen me under all of the hurried conversations and event planning. My life wasn’t just exhausting for me, apparently it had become too exhausting to watch.
Although in my mind I believed that I was doing God a huge favor by cramming as much as possible in to each and every day, He was anything but pleased. It wasn’t what He planned for me. Fortunately, those words from the campus staff member were the wake-up call I needed. Instead of seeking out more activities, I begin to seek after the One that had stirred my heart in high school.
As I did, He took what had been this foreign concept of grace and made it real. The Good News finally became just that: Good News. I no longer sought to earn what I already had, but instead I walked away from the life of bondage that I’d been freed from long ago.
This isn’t to say discipline is bad. It’s not. Scripture instructs me to be self-controlled. But I’ve learned I need to examine my motivation for it. The desire to spend time with God and serve those around me isn’t for His approval. It’s because I love Him.
If anything, God taught me that even the holiest plans can only go so far on our own strength. While I should have passion and drive, I shouldn’t be blinded by my way over His. It’s not about how much I can do or how happy I can look while doing it. The Good News isn’t that I have a God that wants to put me to work, but that He is doing a good work in me.
Today I am writing from a city I assumed would have long ago become a distance
light in my rear view mirror. My job prospects are slim at best. Life isn’t what I planned when I was in control, working toward a successful career in counseling. Yet, I couldn’t be more at peace in the chaos.