We like division. I like division. I like when I can categorize and compartmentalize, sort and label. I’ve taken every personality test you can find (I’ll also include those BuzzFeed quizzes that guess who you’re going to marry based off of your favorite pizza topping) in the name of understanding myself in terms of letters, numbers, or other entirely arbitrary categories. Clinging to my “I’m an introvert/feeler/fill-in-the-blank, I can’t help it!” status, has been a primary reason for me clinging to some of my oldest habits, like an old man eating the same sandwich everyday, because “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
And if it is broken, internal old man? If it no longer fills you up, sir?
This is something that I’ve been stewing on, turning it over in my head for the last few weeks. How much do I do out of old habit, how much do I do on autopilot because I’m convinced that the alternative is much worse, at it’s worst; and at it’s best, not as good as the current thing I have going?
When I was in school, I was good. I did good. I enjoyed school, I enjoyed learning, I enjoyed achievement. In fact, that’s mostly what school consisted of. Am I the best? Does everyone know I’m the best? A constant jockeying for positions, and an even more constant insecurity, because it costs you to maintain that position. For me, the cost was steep. I gave learning up for the temporary enjoyment of an “A”. This was who I labeled myself as, so eventually when the tower fell, when the grocery store stopped carrying that specific brand of mustard (if we’re gonna go with the “old man and his sandwich” metaphor), I was devastated.
When you sacrifice what you love for a feeling of security (love very rarely aligns itself with security), it splits you. There’s the part of you that feels glee and joy, the part that does things sheerly for the love of it, and there’s the other part. It’s the old man demanding that the status quo be maintained, that he have the same sandwich that he’s had for years now, not because it brings any satisfaction, but because he forgot that there were other foods to eat. Because he’s scared that that sandwich might now be the only thing that makes him happy, the only food that fills him up.
I’ve realized how much of my life I’ve lived this way. Especially as I’ve begun to delve into the Bible, specifically the legal documents, what seemed like endless laws, specific (gruesomely so, in a few spots). And I realized how much one word had left a bad taste in my mouth: obedience. And the doing wasn’t the part I took issue with. My life right now is the result of being obedient, of doing obedience.
But I realized pretty quickly that my very definition of obedience was coming up short to what it seemed like the Bible, like God was telling me.
“I want your heart in it, too,” it seemed as though everything I read was saying.
“But it doesn’t have to be, does it?”
I’m moving from fully believing that God didn’t particularly care if my heart was involved, to seeing that my heart’s engagement in relationship with him IS something he’s concerned. In my head, his concern was primarily with actions involved, the results it gave, the way it looked on the outside. I can’t fully describe the resentment this creates, when you can’t get your heart to comply with the persona you’ve developed. It was this dissociative dynamic in my personal life, this sacrifice of joy and love to the gods of lists on a resumé or transcript, at the altars of achievement and appearance.
I learned the exact opposite of what I expected to learn out of those once-blank pages of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I learned that God is constantly in pursuit of my heart. If he wanted a morality machine, he could made someone with zero choice, if my heart-level obedience truly did not matter to him. Instead what you see is him going out of his way to give us a choice. You see, unless I can choose not to, I can’t choose to. Without an alternative, I’m a machine. So I can only conclude that my choices matter deeply to the heart of an almighty God. So why choose obedience?
Because love and joy and trust.
This is the current place where God is stitching me back together. He’s teaching me why obedience (not just big obediences, but little ones, too) matters, and that it isn’t just the action. This is where I’m at, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops, but this has made obedience so much harder, and so much easier, all at the same time. It’s come a lot with learning to see the character of God clearer than I think I ever have, which makes him more trustworthy than he has ever been to me. When I know that the motivation of everything God does, is the highest good for everyone involved, than I can easily trust that he has my best interest at heart when he does something. When he asks me to do something. Even if that something is really hard. Am I at the point of declaring every command I’m given is an absolute delight? Nope. Forgiveness and loving those who don’t love me back is still super hard. Still not super delightful. But I can see the importance of these, the kingdom call of these, and the weight that this releases me and everyone else involved from.
God doesn’t use obedience to wound us. I never have to worry about God sending me some place that I’m going to hate, because I can perpetually trust his intentions. I can seek his heart in every step of obedience. When the time comes, I can trust that God isn’t going to tell me to marry someone completely and entirely incompatible. If God sends me some place new (marriage, from what I hear, is definitely uncharted territory), and it’s really hard? By knowing his character, I can always, always, always trust his intentions. And I can step out in obedience with joy, because I know that God is always in the place where I just step out of something that no longer serves to satisfy, challenge or grow me, into what he has for me.
The more I learn about God, the more I come to realize that even the strictest of Levitical laws still had a piece of God’s heart in them, that even when it made zero sense, the highest good of those involved was the motivation of every command, even if we don’t get it. When I know the heart of God, his will is that much easier to step into.
The more I learn to love God, the less painful obedience becomes because it is brings me that much closer to who I was made to be, living loved and loving out of that, restoring this earth to what he created it to be. Obedience is undoing the destructive pattern of my own sin and selfish choices. And everyone benefits.
The split comes back together when I think about it in these terms, or at least it starts to. I want to trade my same old-same old for something that satisfies. Something not based out of fear, or resentment, but something based out of love, out of trust. I’m learning that obedience is restorative, it’s a response to the character of an entirely trustworthy father, it’s not restrictive, it’s not condemning, and it’s changing everything. Now everything becomes an opportunity to engage with God, everything becomes an opportunity to connect with him and see and show his heart. It’s so much fuller than my most satisfying moments of achievement, so much more worthwhile than anything I’ve pursued so far. It’s actually the most worthwhile pursuit, isn’t it?