Walking Our Faith: Fight the urge to live like a spiritual expat
May 4, 2018
When I lived overseas, when I wasn't working, I ran around with friends at a frenetic pace. Friendships were quickly formed, because we were all new and desperate to ground ourselves in familiar groups and familiar hangouts. We formed friendships and romantic relationships quickly and deeply. We traveled together and confided secrets we would never have shared with someone in our community at home, because we knew that this crowd we currently called friends would move on in a year or two, as we also would, when a new job assignment called us to another place.
We promised to stay in touch, to visit and for the first year or two we probably did with one or two of our closest friends. But over the years, even those connections gently burned away like early morning mist.
In some ways, living in a resort community like Summit County can feel that way. There are very few "natives." Most of us have come here at a stage in our life that will determine the length of our stay. The young people who work at the ski resorts will stay here a season, go home for the summer with the promise to return in the winter, which they might do for a few years, until the prohibitive cost of living causes them to weigh the pleasure of living in a ski town against the desire for affordable home ownership.
On the other end of the spectrum is our vibrant retirement community. Summit County is a great place to enjoy your retirement years with cultural activities, opportunities to volunteer, and yes, ski or snowshoe in the winter or hike in the summer. Summit County seniors enjoy wonderful longevity, although eventually they may move to lower elevations, where bottled oxygen isn't required for sleep.
Our spiritual relationship with God can have this same feeling of impermanence. When we are new to our faith, or new to a church, we feel a high of excitement. We want to join every group and share our faith with everyone we meet.
But then something happens. Sometimes it's an external event, we lose a job, we discover the person we so admired in church isn't who we imagined them to be or we see stories on TV that make us question our image of a loving God. Other times, the obstacle we face is internal: after a period of deep communion with God, it feels as if God has withdrawn and no longer cares about us.
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At this juncture, we may change churches, change faiths, turn our back on God altogether, or just as worrisome, lapse into acedia, a spiritual desert where we drift away from our relationship with God, just as we allow our relationships with friends who have moved, to slowly become a less integral part of our lives.
I believe this is the urgency behind the message in the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John. "Remain in me and I will remain in you," Jesus encourages us.
It's one of the final conversations he will have with his followers before he is arrested, tried and crucified. He knows what his future holds, and we sense his urgency in this passage as he repeats the phrase several times. He feels compelled to impress the importance of this message on his followers, so they won't forget him once he is gone.
"Remain in me and I will remain in you."
As he has done in the past, Jesus uses familiar metaphors that his audience will understand, to teach a deeper message. "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit … If anyone does not remain in me, he's like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:5,6)
That image of being rejected by God is the one that we most identify with when we feel estranged from him. Cast out of the Garden of Eden, cast into fires of hell, cut away like a withered branch. Most of us grew up with an idea of God always chasing us away.
Instead, I challenge you to read the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John and not come away with an appreciation of how dearly we are loved by God. Yes, we are being chased, but not to be punished but because God desires a deep and lasting relationship with us.
And yes, Jesus used the metaphor of pruning us, cutting back the branch, not as a punishment, but to strengthen. To make us better than we would have been otherwise. And yes, this means we will face trials and tragedies in our lives. Yes, we will have months or even years when God seems so far. And yet, even in these most difficult times, when we are being pruned and made stronger, Jesus encourages us to "Remain in me and I will remain in you."
This is exactly the moment when we must open our Bibles and read. Even if for five minutes. Begin by reading the first five verses in this 15th chapter of the Gospel of John. Tomorrow, read the next five verses. Continue in this way as you read the remaining chapters of John over the coming week. Just five minutes a day, alone in God's word. Then five minutes of prayer, asking God to open your heart and mind to what he wants to tell you. And yes, go to church on Sunday. We are stronger when we find a community where we feel loved and nurtured. There are many wonderful faith communities in Summit County. Find yours.
We have not been called to be spiritual expats, or seasonal visitors to God's house. He has called us to a lifelong relationship that grows through every season. "Remain in me and I will remain in you."
Suzanne Anderson is the author of "Love in a Time of War" and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or Facebook.com/SuzanneElizabeths
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