I’ve gotten the sense that over the last year or so, God has been up to something in my life. I just wasn’t able to put my finger on it until lately.
I saw a really interesting segment on a documentary a few months ago. In the segment, they were showing two villages that lived fairly close to each other in a desert. Both of these villages had been established around a single well that was drawing from an underground river. These two villages realized that if they would connect their wells, there would be more water flowing, and they could almost create a network of wells.
In order to do this, each village had to send people down their wells and carve out a tunnel following the river toward the other village. The person who was digging this mud, rock, and dirt out was up to their knees in muddy water, taking buckets full of rock back to the well to be taken away by others up top helping out. It’s messy, dangerous work, where there is a risk of cave in each day.
I think there are two periods of my spiritual life that God is using ministry to carve a deeper well between. It’s messy, confusing at times, and glorious at others.
When I was younger, I had a much more simplistic faith. God was very black and white, I was very legalistic, but I was also genuinely head-over-heels for God. I practically lived at the church. It was a very romantic time in my relationship with God. There were a lot of strong emotional feelings and connections.
Then came seminary.
Seminary, while being quite valuable, was also remarkably challenging. It forced me to examine, in excruciating detail, every nuance of faith I had down to certainty beforehand. I liken it to having a favorite painting or song when you’re younger, then going to school and learning about all of the schools of painting or technical skills of music. Suddenly, the pure joy and mystery of the art is lost in the mix. I had begun my journey into seminary with God as a good friend, then spending the next four years learning far more than I had ever truly intended.
I had entered seminary with a simple, enjoyable understanding of God, but I left seminary with a ‘very complicated’ God. God was much more ‘technical’ and seemingly much less nuanced than before.
I had dug two very different wells: one of pure joy and romance, and a second of skill and study. Both of them are valid and important, but they remain distant from each other.
I’ve now spent around five years in ministry. I think it has taken every bit of that time for me to come “up for air”. Ministry has presented me with situations that don’t fit in either camp. I’ve seen abuse victims mourn their abusers death, showing that relationships are incredibly complicated. I’ve watched elderly people survive nearly terminal illnesses and newborns die, driving home the point that I don’t understand “fair”.
Some of us prefer one camp (or well) more than the others. I have friends who have a very rigid view of the world and God, with little to no room for nuance and “gray”. I have others who seemingly have no absolutes, who prefer a “highly customizable” God.
We (pastors) are rarely presented with a simple situation. There’s usually a complication or variable added into the equation. Similarly, we (people) are rarely presented with a simple God. There’s usually more going on than we realize. People just like a simple God.
I’m not sure what my spiritual life will look like on the other side of this project that God seems to be up too. But I imagine I’m not the only one God is working on. It’s possible that God is trying to help you connect the different parts of your life together.
Keep digging. It’s hard and messy work. But it’s also the way to life.
Remember, I love y’all, and there’s nothing you can do about it.