December 29, 2011

thoughts on 2011

We've nearly reached the end of 2011, which means it's time for inward reflection! Those of you that like to peek inside my head I'm sure are no doubt excited about reading this post. What's nice about inward reflection for me these days is that it's much easier to do now that I've been picking a word each year to hone in on. The idea is to "create a lens" through which you see the kind of person you want to become.

This year, myoneword was HIARI, a Swahili word that translates roughly as "free will." When I picked it, I wasn't really sure how well it fit with the guidelines for a word. It's easy to envision looking through a lens of "love" or "patience"; there are situations almost daily where we find the need to draw upon these virtues to be better people. But HIARI? What does that look like? To be honest, I chose it despite this problem because I wanted to understand more about what it is. We've all come across the paradox that, though God has planned out all the details of our lives before we were even in the womb, He also gave us HIARI. Lots of people have problems with this, including me. How can it be both ways?

This year taught me quite a bit about choices, but not at all the way I expected. If you asked me how I thought this might turn out at the beginning of the year, I would've said something like "God's going to point out all the [good] choices I make and show me how these choices affect His plans for my life." I include the word [good] because that would be my intention when I talk about my "choices" and "decisions"; surely most of them would be good, right?

I spent the majority of 2011 pushing God out of my heart and trying to replace Him with other things. I tried to replace Him with money, with possessions, with girls (thoughts of them, at least), and at various junctures, I even tried filling the void with myself. In other words, I inflated my ego. On one hand, it sounds like I totally ignored my responsibilities this year. But on the other, it taught me exactly what I wanted it to teach me. HIARI is a real thing. It's real, and it's something to be valued. Valued as in don't take it lightly. If you want, you can reject what is good and replace it with evil. If you want, you can even turn a good thing into something evil, depending on the situation. For example, bestowing charity on someone just to gain attention from people who see you do it. In this case, you turn charity and compassion into arrogance and pity.

The really sad part about all of this is how long it took me to realize what I was doing. It was easy to shrug off when external conditions were good (re: everything outside my control was working in my favor). But when things started to slide as the second half of the year pushed on, my character started to change. I became irritable over little things, I grew impatient more easily, and I was often surprised at myself by small, hateful thoughts that occasionally popped into my brain. I didn't understand what was happening at the time, but I sure do now. I was attempting to draw on the strength of things that couldn't provide it, either because they would collapse under the weight or because the source was simply imaginary and had nothing to give.

I made a lot of poor decisions this year, but none can match the choice I made to push God away. When I finally admitted to myself what I did, I felt the absence of God in my heart for the first time in my life. It was awful. Don't ever do it if you can help it.

Thankfully, and despite my proclivity this year to make bad choices, I noticed God was still affecting what was happening in my life. External circumstances, such as those surrounding my joining the TZ21 Project rather than going home or extending in Iringa, were things He used to shape my life, all without requiring a decision from me. Not only that, but He also made impacts through other people. Just because you aren't being a good steward doesn't mean others aren't as well. So even when God wasn't in my heart, He was in the circumstances and the people around me.

I'm still trying to recover to this day. I still have problems with being patient, I still pass judgement on people, and there is still a lingering sense deep inside that things aren't right. Fixing all of this isn't going to happen instantly; it will be a process. In the midst of the chaos,  in the entropy of swirling thoughts in how I should go about it, one simple idea has surfaced repeatedly, calmly and without force: "just make your way back to the cross." You can take deep breaths when you wake up in the morning, you can stop and identify thoughts you want to cast out, and you can ask for Help when they start to overwhelm you. That's all fine. Just make sure you "make your way back to the cross." I know exactly Who's talking, and I know exactly what it means.

The cross is on the left end of that rainbow.
On the small mountain range behind my new house, there is a cross that sits up on the rocks. Ever since I arrived in town, I've been pining to climb to it. Do I think it's absolutely necessary to reach it just to "fix" my relationship with God? No. But I think it will immeasurably help to make it more real. Finding your way back to the foot of the cross is not an easy task because it requires not the words in your mouth, but the aches of your heart. Expelling the sins in your life is something you must feel; otherwise, it is an empty gesture. The beauty of this is that it's impossible to force. Have you ever tried to force yourself to feel a certain way? It never works.

HIARI is a wonderful thing. It can incite ecstasy, and it can inflict unspeakable damage. But most importantly, it makes those things possible. Without it, we couldn't choose love over hate, we couldn't choose giving over taking...without it, we couldn't choose. And even though it's been a year full of mistakes and heartache, I will always be grateful He gave us the freedom to choose.

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
- Proverbs 4:23