It’s funny, the way they look at my life. You know, that moment when you suddenly realize how others perceive you and it’s like you can now see yourself through their eyes.
No one ever says anything to my face. But when spiritual things come up in conversation, I can tell how alien I seem to them. It’s like they’re talking about an experience that’s completely foreign to them.
They bring up death, and I talk of heaven instead of sadness and oblivion. From their curious stares, you’d think I’d just said I believed in Middle Earth and would be visiting the Shire soon.
They broach the subject of God with me usually in times of crisis. Their hearts betray a hidden hope for a heaven and a loving Father, yet they cannot move past their fear of him. That’s because they know instinctively he will require something of them, to give up some treasured selfishness they don’t believe they could live without.
So as soon as they begin to reach for him, they pull back into the reality they’ve accepted…and constructed.
A friend sat and talked with me for a few minutes. He mentioned he’d thought of me last Sunday when he attended the funeral of a coworker. She’d been in continual pain and finally committed suicide. He was devastated, but also introspective. It made him start to ponder faith, and God, and life, and how short it all is.
I guess I’m happy he’d think of me in the midst of all those weighty topics.
As he talked, I could tell he was searching, possibly even wishing I could speak some simple sentiment into his experience that would help it all make sense for him. His coworker was gone, and soon he will be too. And being confronted with that reality naturally makes you evaluate life, and wonder what’s the meaning…and also, what’s next.
I felt just a little frustrated at that moment. That’s because I knew it was an open door for me, yet I knew my answer would be much more than my friend wanted to hear. You see, he wanted a simple answer—something that would fit nicely on a Facebook meme or his refrigerator. He wanted a life philosophy to make it all make sense—something short and pithy.
He keeps repeating carpe diem–seize the day– as if living for today could somehow bring meaning. It doesn’t. Usually, it only leads to excess and more pain. But I guess that’s as good as any meaning he can find without slipping into “God territory.”
But what I have to offer him is something demanding much more time and sacrifice that I feel he’s willing to commit. Because to find true meaning, eternal meaning, means you must lose yourself in the process. And few, very few, are willing to do that…
“…narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:14
They see the things that bring me joy—prayer, the Bible, worship—as such oddities, the relics of an era before iPhones and on-demand entertainment. I know they wonder if I simply don’t realize all the fun I’m missing by not indulging myself in all this world has to offer.
“Look how he’s missing out,” they think. Funny, that’s exactly what I think about them.
You see, my joy and hope is found in a dusty old book, and in its Author. But understanding the book and knowing its Author take a lifetime of searching and painful sacrifice. And I know this is a price my searching friend may be unwilling to pay.
The things my friend desires—joy, peace, meaning—are found through a regular regimen of spiritual disciplines (prayer, study of Scripture, worship, etc). To find true happiness, I focus on things others easily ignore. I pay attention to a world outside of the one everyone else sees so clearly, looking to a far-away King for my daily marching orders.
At His direction, I look clear-eyed at the ugliness inside me, while others delude themselves they are only filled with sweetness and light.
I listen to His Spirit, as He roots out each wrong motivation in my heart. I avoid explaining away and rationalizing my sin, but agree with each rebellion of the heart His finger points out.
I accept the trials and hardships of this life, trusting in their hidden purpose. I look on as each crucible melts away the imperfections His finger pointed to earlier. I am reborn, remade into the image of the One I love and serve.
While the world continually exalts self and desire, I seek to become smaller in my eyes. The less of me I see, the more His image comes clearer into focus.
In the end, the others become desperate as they watch this world slip away. But at the very same moment, I celebrate this world slipping away as it dissolves into a new and glorious one.
This is why their great fear is my great victory. This is why I am at peace in a world of pain. You see, my mind and spirit are already focused on “the other side.” This present world is but a pesky distraction from the One I so love and wish to see.
For them, heaven’s just a word—a hoped-for myth. For me, it’s more real than this world with each passing day.
I watch as my friend continues to talk, to try and convince himself of meaning in this life outside of God. He is taking the easy way, but it will never satisfy him…
For in finding, we must lose.
In losing, we find everything.
To find life, we must die to self.
In dying, we find life and joy eternal.
How strange something so simple would be so hard for so many. But there is no other way, though men continue to search out an easier one. Even so, life and truth are still found in a dusty old book that asks you to give up everything to follow its Author…
This is the one path to life everlasting. And it is the one few will ever find though it sits right in front of their eyes, a road map to heaven bound in leather and dust.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.