Jenn LeBow is one of my favourite people. She is a spinner of stories, and her blog is always full of light and joy and colour. She and her husband (referred to simply as ‘Honey’ on her blog) have lived in many different countries, and I love learning from her global perspective and generous heart. It’s a joy to have her here:
One of the stealthiest secrets of my Christian life is my continual yearning for more. At 17, I heard Bono belt out, “You know I belieeeeve it… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” And I got that. In my Christian circles at the time, though, no one else admitted that they were still looking for anything. Many of them gushed about their love from and for Jesus in a way that made me uncomfortable, almost. Jealous, almost. Like watching your best friend and her greatest-guy-ever boyfriend cook dinner together, laughing and talking. You know it’s a good thing, and you don’t want her boyfriend, but you want something like that for yourself. Only, I did want their Jesus. My Jesus seemed so much more reserved.
But how can you tell your friends who are whooping it up with Jesus that you’re not having as much fun with such a great guy? That you don’t feel the same way they do? You can’t, at least not without bracing yourself for the pity in their eyes as they reassess the sincerity of your faith. Who, after all, among believers, wouldn’t be fully satisfied by Jesus?
Especially when there’s nothing else to be dissatisfied with. I have lived an abundant life for all my life. I have a strong, healthy body. I grew up in a middle-class family, not spoiled but certainly never lacking for anything. I’m white and straight and part of the majority prevailing religion where I grew up. No one abused me as a child, verbally, physically, or sexually. Education and civic duty were important to both sides of my extended family. And for crying out loud, I’m a Texan on top of all that! Jackpot, baby.
By the time I got to college, I’d gotten pretty good at summoning up enough religious enthusiasm. When others spoke glowingly of Jesus, I could, too. I wasn’t exactly faking it; I genuinely felt (and feel) a deep gratitude to, and need for, Jesus. But I didn’t love Him in quite the way it seemed I ought to, and I didn’t feel Him loving me that way. I believed that He did, I just didn’t feel it.
Growing up in the family and church I did, Christianity had both a social outreach aspect and a theological curiosity to it that appealed to me deeply. I thought you should know well the beliefs you profess, and even be willing to discuss the implications of those beliefs in real-life settings. I intuited that faith alone, however, didn’t do anyone much good, and that what we said we believed ought to carry over into our actions. Particularly as we meet those who hurt, who hunger, who need healing, who need help, our beliefs should manifest themselves as respectful, compassionate action. This is where I came from.
Yet as a young adult, I had become so disenchanted by not feeling in love with God, as so many of my friends did, that I walked away from Jesus altogether. It didn’t help that I found myself at graduation with no job, no husband, no plan. “I’ve done things Your way, ” I shouted over my shoulder as I broke up with Jesus. “It’s not working. Now I’m going to see how my way works.”
I’ll spare you stories of the bad dates, the bad hangovers, the bad jobs that followed. My way stunk, frankly, and now I found myself with a real problem: I couldn’t live with Jesus, and I couldn’t live without Him.
Here’s where the answer to my spiritual dilemma got real: in the eyes of a guy who wouldn’t play games with me; who loved me but didn’t let me boss him around; who called me out on my inconsistencies or wrongheaded thinking, but never made me feel judged. Who made me feel as if I was the only one in the world for him.
In other words, someone who made me feel like Jesus was always “supposed” to make me feel.
This is Honey we’re talking about, of course.
Looking back, I can see how dangerous a gamble God took in sending him to me. I could easily have opted to satisfy myself with Honey and never tried to reconnect with Jesus. On the other hand, perhaps God took into account my literalism, my very small understanding of love, and my yearning. Perhaps into that mix, He sent in the right player to win one for the team.
This would be a great time to tell you about the abundant love I have found in Jesus since then. I’d really love to wrap this up in a neat package for you. However, as always, I’ve lived with the same spiritual ache since I came back to Jesus.
Only maybe not exactly the same one. I’m still not a gusher about a lovey-dovey relationship with God, it’s true, but over the years, God has become more and more real to me. I’ve learned to look for His hand in my life. I’ve turned again and again to gratitude, not envy, hoping that one day, I’ll be transformed into a more naturally grateful person.
Most importantly, I accepted an entirely different relationship than I “should” have with Jesus as a gift, not leftover scraps. Living with yearning for more in the midst of my ridiculous physical privilege has developed in me a heartfelt compassion for those whose yearnings are of a more tangible nature: for shelter, food, safety, good health. Not feeling fully satisfied in this world helps me connect with people who suffer from grief, loss, separation, loneliness. Knowing I can’t fix everything helps me rely more on Someone who ultimately will, but it also keeps me on edge to look for ways I can work for more justice in this world right now.
Jesus felt need in this world: hunger, pain, loneliness, betrayal. Some of His prayers speak of longing to be with the Father. He wanted more from Jerusalem: the opportunity to show them mother-hen love. He joyfully took part in eating with “sinners,” teaching in the temple, and celebrating the feasts, but Jesus wasn’t living a carefree life. He also didn’t fix everything that came His way, at least not in the sense that His contemporaries understood. He “let” Lazarus die. He healed many, but sometimes encountered disbelief and in those cases, didn’t force-heal anyone. Wanting to be more like Him might, I realized, mean that I need to come to terms with both abundance and longing.
Dear friends of mine, people whose faith journey I respect and trust, have spoken to me of having a flash of recognition when they heard Jason Gray sing the lyrics, “It’s gotta be more like falling in love than something to believe in, more like losing my heart than giving my allegiance…” And I agree that Jesus relates with them in that way. I’m even to the point of rejoicing with them that He does.
But He doesn’t with me. And I’m still learning to rejoice in the way we continue on, together but with some longings unfilled.
Jenn LeBow would love to say she spends her time peacefully drinking tea, reading books, and calmly suggesting minor tweaks in behavior from her nearly-perfect children. Unfortunately, life isn’t always that simple. In between all the craziness of life as a wife, mom of four wonderful (but not nearly-perfect) children, and follower of Jesus, though, Jenn does squeeze in her fair share of tea and books. Living in Havana, Cuba, Jenn blogs at www.jennlebow.com and tweets @hobwas.
Over to you:
- What characterises your relationship with Jesus?
- “I need to come to terms with both abundance and longing.” Can you relate to this?
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