In a fit of nostalgia, I picked up my first journal tonight and read what I wrote last year on my birthday.
Let me look forward to this year, God, without fear, but with true and abandoned joy for all the ways I know you will work in me and around me, all the ways, Lord, that I know you will transform me and grow me in you. And I pray that that will be my heart for this year, God - joy, not fear; confidence, not doubt; and just an ever-deepening striving for you. Lord, let all my other concerns fade in light of your promise - trusting that, when in all ways I acknowledge you, you will make my paths straight. Let this year be a time of growth and intimacy with you, my heavenly Father.
I’m at a loss for words. How he answered that prayer! I asked for growth and for intimacy, and how he answered! I flipped back one page, and I found what I wrote when, coming off of the high of meeting God for the first time that fall, I started to struggle to feel God’s presence.
God, I don’t know what this is. It just seems harder to quiet myself before you, like whenever I try to sit at your feet there are a thousand things pulling me away. I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired or busy or because I’m pulling away from your will. If I’m just scared of what you might ask of me. It’s probably all of the above. Lord, I feel off-balance. But you are more than feelings. It doesn’t matter what I feel, God. It matters what you did in sending us your Son. God, let me always remember that. Place that truth on my heart, Lord, and let it anchor all my ways. Let me dig deeper in you as I struggle, and thirst even more after your fullness. Let me not turn away from you and try to bury this gnawing feeling. God, I lay this uncertainty before you, and I know, even if my fickle heart cannot always feel, that your grace is sufficient to cover my weakness and my faithlessness. Let me run after you all the harder, at the same time knowing that it is you who works in my heart and you who saves - that you will bring me to completion. Let me just quiet myself before you, Lord, and trust in the power of your grace.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. I don’t know how many more times in this past year I’ve prayed this prayer, or how many times even in this past week I’ve forgotten about grace in midst of struggle. This year has seen so many ups and downs, but when I look at the way my life has changed there’s no denying the growth and intimacy he’s given me, the way he’s taught me to love his presence even in the absence of it - to hunger for him and to come back to the truth of how much I need him. I am foolish, I am faithless, I am weak, and I have no idea what nineteen will bring, but I’m praying as I did 363 days ago that he will help me to face it with joy, not fear, trusting in my faithful Savior - the one who answered a thousand times over.
I love, I love, I love your presence.
I love, I love, I love you Jesus.
I’ve been thinking about making this post for a while, and I finally decided to make it.
At a certain point in my life as a pro-choicer, I discovered something: In order to be intellectually honest in my pro-choice thinking, I had to be willing to look around at all of the people I knew—my family, my friends—and be willing to say, “It would be okay if you had never been born.” And I had to be willing to say the same about myself, too.
And I actually was willing to say this. While my mother was pregnant with me, my father tried to pressure her into an abortion, and you know what I thought when I found out? I thought, “She should have gone through with it.” I was a burden; I made everyone’s lives difficult; I wasn’t worth loving or sacrificing for; I didn’t matter. I had so completely internalized this message about myself that finding out that I had almost been killed in my mother’s womb was no big deal. I mean, hey, it would have saved us all a lot of suffering. The cost-benefit analysis seemed perfectly clear: I just wasn’t worth it.
I wasn’t quite so obviously callous in my estimation of other people’s worth, but, had they asked me if I believed that they mattered in any real way—mattered in some way which did not include some reference to my thoughts or feelings about them—I would have had to say no. I would have had to say, “I am overjoyed that you were born because you have contributed so much to my life, and you make me so happy, and I think you’re wonderful, and look at all of the people who love you, but, ultimately, if you had not been born, it would have been okay. At the end of the day, there is nothing necessary about your existence. You are replaceable.” Those were the consequences of my worldview—the worldview which says that each and every child conceived in his mother’s womb is theoretically disposable; the worldview which can talk about “what you have to offer” and how “useful” you are, but can say nothing about the worth of the “useless.”
And I think our society has done a pretty decent job at living out that vision: the Vision of Replaceability. We don’t just treat the unborn this way. We treat the born this way, too. We give up on our spouses when our marriages stop being “useful” contributions to our lives. We give up on our families when the going gets too tough. We give up on our romantic partners when “the spark is gone.” We give up on our friends when we’re not getting what we “need” from them. We’re a culture of quitters. We love when it’s convenient for us. And people are often inconvenient; they demand our time and attention and care; they’re not perfectly suited to our desires the way objects are. So, we objectify them. We pay attention when it suits us and then tuck them away on a shelf somewhere where we keep the rest of our “toys.”
Is it any wonder that we don’t think that we matter? We’ve never seen it. Is it any wonder that many of us cannot even conceive of true selflessness? That the notion that someone might actually want good things for you and might actually not expect anything in return and might actually not just be doing it because “it feels good to do good things” seems so foreign and strange? Should we be surprised? It’s all we know.
And this is the root of the culture of death. This is where death starts. It doesn’t start in war zones or brothels or abusive homes or abortion clinics or execution chambers. Those are its manifestations, but that’s not where death starts. Death starts with people as things. It starts with “you are only as necessary as you are useful.” It starts with “you are not precious; you are replaceable.”
So, we leave ourselves with no resources when we are truly confronted with death. We have nothing real to offer to the suicidal, the eating disordered, the self-injuring, the depressed, the lonely, the abused. Nothing but empty words. We may say, “You are irreplaceable,” but do we mean it? Do we know what it would mean to truly mean those words? I don’t think we do. Not as long as we see each other as “choices,” as “options” in a sea of options. Not as long as we cannot honestly look one another in the eye and say, “It would not have been okay if you had never been born. You belong alive, and you matter, not because of what you do, but because you are you.”
And for those of us who call ourselves pro-life, that has to mean something. It has to mean that we see people as people; that we treat them like people; that we love them. Maybe the reason that the pro-choice movement so often accuses us of “only caring about fetuses” isn’t all unwarranted hyperbole; maybe they’re responding to the very real lack of true, genuine, selfless love in our society, and maybe we’re all in that battle together. How on earth are any of us supposed to know that that’s possible—that we could matter in that way—unless someone shows us? That’s where the culture of life starts: the moment when we discover that we’re loved.
Oh God, the glory is yours! The kindom is come; the battle is over.
From Matt Chandler’s A Theology of Struggle
This time last year, during my first fall retreat, God met me and fanned to flame a work in my heart that would lead me to commit my life to Christ. This weekend, I walked back into that place after a rollercoaster year of starting to know him, completely unsure of what he had in store. And to be honest I was too tired and distracted and caught up in myself for a while to be able to really focus on God.
But Saturday night, I came in from talking to my friend outside, and the chairs had been cleared to the side to make space for people to gather in little groups. I’ve seen few things more beautiful than that room where the dimmed lights settled so softly on my church and family - sharing, confessing, praying, worshiping with each other. I saw what it looks like for the Spirit to fill a room, for heavy, heavy shame to become visible and light, for broken people to be built into a dwelling place for the Lord. How lovely is your dwelling place, Father! Then standing to worship together, fallen sinners upright on grace, we lifted our hands for the joy of the upward call, forgetting what lies behind to press forward to his glory.
Sunday morning before we left we all prayed together, laying hands on the underclassmen, upperclassmen, and graduates in turn. I’ve seen few things more beautiful than the body praying as one, and my heart was so full in that moment with praise for the one who knit us all together. But for all we learned and experienced at retreat, life and the Enemy do a pretty great job in making us forget, slamming us when we think we’re on top of the world. It’s hard when you crash on concrete to be grateful for the height. And yet I’m praying that we can cling onto retreat not for the spiritual high, but for the reminder - that this is our God.
This is our God. This is our God who hears our prayers, who meets us where we are, whose mercies are new each day, whose grace covers all our brokenness, who delights in us, who loves us. This is our God who was there in the gentle half-light and there in our hands raised heavenward and there leading souls to take their first shaking step toward Christ and there to gather up all the hurt shame anger bitterness sin we spilled and there to turn that darkness to light. This is our God who was there in our fellowship, when we prayed together in the name of Christ Jesus who saved each one of us. This is our God who saved me last year. When the Enemy tempts us to despair and call all that happened at retreat useless, nothing more than a spiritual high, without any effect on the real world and our real lives, I’m praying that we can tell him no.
No. This is our God. And as we struggle and fail and fall on our faces, I’m praying that we can still cling onto all that our God did this weekend, remind ourselves who he is - who we are in light of that. I’m praying that, as brothers and sisters who share the name of Christ, we can remind each other in the midst of all that surrounds us to look upward at our God who does not change.
This is our God. He was there. He is here.