Blog Post 50: Faithfulness
This summer my alarm clock celebrates its thirtieth birthday. Here it is, basking in all the attention it’s receiving in celebration of this big milestone:
This little clock has a convincing retro digital display, glowing cyan proudly as it creates all possible digits with just seven interlocking trapezoids. The plastic on the top and sides of the clock do a convincing enough impersonation of stained red oak while other strips of plastic on the front mimic polished chrome. It can alert me to the coming of a new morning by playing the radio or by emitting a measured, insistent “beep” . . . “beep” . . . “beep.” If I ignore the beep it increases in pitch and frequency on the minute. It rises to more panicked tones and tempos until I reassure it that I’m up and active. Or that I’ve chosen to put off the day for another ten minutes.
My alarm clock arrived inconspicuously in a set of supplies my mom got for me in preparation for my departure for college. My mom had gotten two of everything, one for me and one for my twin brother. My brother and I had abandoned our childhood practice of wearing matching clothes long before our high school graduation. This bundle of supplies would turn out to be the final exhale of our twin matchingness as we went off into separate careers and life paths. The other supplies have long ago left my memory; my alarm clock has outlasted them all.
My other electronic devices are connected to intricate systems through which their manufacturers can slowly kill them off, forcing me to buy new ones regularly. The malicious Trojan horses known as “upgraded operating systems” make my computing devices gradually slower and less effective than I’ve come to expect from them. I get more and more frustrated and angry even though their slower speed for receiving and processing data remains mind-blowingly fast compared to our ability to process information for, like, all of history. So I want to throw these things out and replace them while I remain perfectly happy with my alarm clock. The only connectivity it has is the ability to decode radio waves based on slight changes of frequency or amplitude. No one has figured out how to use radio waves to effect planned obsolescence or I’m sure they would have done so by now. So my alarm clock endures.
This meditation on my little alarm clock marks my fiftieth blog post. If I had kept up my original pace of one post a week I would’ve hit this milestone within one year. Instead I’m hitting it just before the three-year mark.
Fifty blog posts is a lot of words. I’m proud of myself for enduring up to this point. I’m also frustrated that I’ve written so little. I’m thrilled that many have found some of the words I’ve written helpful and healing. And I had hoped to be reaching more people by now.
A few years before I got my clock Eugene Peterson published a book called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I’ll try to read the book soon, but just the title carries more of a personal challenge and inspiration to me than any self-help book I’ve come across. Writing in the form of a blog is instant in its publication and distribution. It feels like a sprint. Write, edit, post, go viral, and change the world, all in about a week. A “long obedience in the same direction” feels more like a marathon. But even marathons are over in a handful of hours. Maybe it’s more like a cross-country trek. Without a map.
I don’t know where my writing is going. I know, though, that I’m called to do it as this kind of long obedience. You might be imagining that this knowledge came from a generalized sense that I should write or from a word from the Holy Spirit in a moment of revelation. At the risk of sounding a bit loopy to some of my readers I will admit to having had these kinds of experiences and to having acted on them. They can be real and valid. But God knows me and knows that it would take a lot more than a single feeling or word to get me to crack open the thick shell I’ve built around myself and in order to reveal my thoughts, feelings, and experiences in all their wet and fleshy vulnerability.
God spent years of putting me in contexts and relationships where I could learn to speak openly about my private thoughts. God carried me through educational and professional contexts where I could learn about a broad array of disciplines. And then, over the course of several years, God put me in conversations where people kept asking me, after discussions on various topics, some version of this question: “Have you written any of this down?”
This process was not a single moment and it was not subtle. As I had to keep answering “no” to that question I had to keep asking myself the follow-up question: “Why the hell not?”
It’s hard. Nobody will read it. Why would anyone care? What authority do I have to say anything? If anyone does read my writing they’ll criticize it. They’ll see I’m a fraud, boring, a bad writer, an incoherent thinker, an idiot.
When I did finally start writing consistently my trusty alarm clock turned out to be my most important writing instrument. I gradually set it earlier and earlier. I would get up, make some coffee, and begin writing. Early in the morning my brain hasn’t had a chance to start stirring up all my self-doubt or trying to untangle all the tasks I have to do when the sun comes up.
I began the blog as a means to another end. I blogged so that some day I could write and publish a book. A friend challenged me on this recently. What if this thing I’m doing now is the thing I’m called to do? This was hard for me to hear. Writing a book feels like a grand accomplishment whereas a blog post feels like a small thing anyone can do. Most of the people that engage with my blog are in my own community while I want to connect with people all over the place.
The voice in my head telling me what I’m doing is too small is not the voice of faith. It’s the voice of fear. Fear of irrelevance, fear of wasting a life, fear of failure, fear of the judgment of other people, fear of my own judgment of myself.
We live inside a horrible lie about faith.
What comes to mind for us with the word “faith”? The thing I believe about the world and about God? A leap into the dark despite all evidence? A general sense that everything will be ok in the end?
When we describe a faithful spouse or a faithful friend we mean something entirely different. A faithful spouse would let go of a million other life opportunities to stay with me when I’m at my best and when I’m at my worst. A faithful friend sticks with me even when I ignore him, hurt him, or push him away. Offering this kind of faith is slow, steady, unglamorous work. Abandoning one another is by far the easier path. And because our version of “faith” is radically individualized we can even convince ourselves that it’s reasonable to abandon one another because our personal “faith” is different.
Faith in God’s story happens in and through interpersonal relationships over the long haul.
God is faithful to the world God created by working through the will and lives of people to reconnect what we’ve torn apart. God called Abraham to begin building a people that could do this work and Abraham responded in trusting courage, stepping into God’s commitment to him by doing the counterintuitive things God said to do. Abraham was not perfect, he didn’t follow any rules correctly (because the rules didn’t exist yet), and he hurt a lot of people in the process. But the overall flow of his life was repeatedly acting in faith, correcting his missteps, accepting considerable loss to himself, and coming back time and again to God’s good promises. More importantly, the overall flow of God’s life with Abraham was forgiving Abraham’s missteps, healing the lives of people hurt by Abraham, and fulfilling God’s promises. Theirs was a relationship of interactive faithfulness. God used this faithfulness as a foundation to build a people to heal the whole world.
I want to be this kind of faithful in my writing. I want to hear each beep of my faithful alarm clock as “write” . . . “write” . . . “write.” As long as I am called to write I want to keep writing, not knowing where any of it’s going, taking each small step, being present in each moment, and keeping it up over the long haul. As I do so I also want to remain deeply embedded in interactive relationships of faithfulness.
God has shown Godself to be radically faithful to me through troubles of all kinds. I want to reciprocate in the broken ways I know how to be faithful, knowing that God has promised to accept my faithfulness as full reconciliation. And I want to turn this faithfulness outward toward others, remaining in committed relationships knowing that I will hurt others and will be hurt by them. Sometimes committed relationships may entail pure delight in experiencing life with others who know me fully and who I fully know. At other times they may require saying and doing hard things I’d much rather avoid because remaining in a real, honest, growing relationship is dependent on it.
If my writing and my life are only ways of pouring myself out as an offering at the feet of those I’m committed to and who are committed to me that is enough. That is faithfulness.