Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Next Step

The task of being a Christian is never over. We never reach a point where we master the concept and then we get to just sit back and bask in our saintliness for the rest of our lives. Christianity doesn't offer us the chance to reach enlightenment or to achieve perfect balance in our lifetimes. It's a relationship and a journey, and it never stops requiring effort. No matter how much we learn, there will always be more to learn. No matter how much we know, we will always have to put in effort to act out our beliefs. No matter how many steps we take, there will always be another step.

I really like to finish projects, and that means it's a little frustrating to have a project—my Christian life, for example—that will never be finished. Occasionally I feel a little bit like a wanderer trapped in a labyrinth or Sisyphus pointlessly pushing a rock up a hill whose pinnacle I will never reach. Am I doomed to toil to no avail, to wander in circles? I suppose the answer to that question depends on the point of the exercise. If my goal is to get to a state of completeness where everything is right and I don't have to try anymore, then I've probably chosen the wrong religion. If I can focus on growth instead of endings, however, then I'm in a wonderful place. I have to remind myself that the fact that my Christian life is a project with no ending is actually a gift—it means there is no ceiling to my potential, no limit to my growth. I can keep becoming better, healthier, stronger, and more loving.

I constantly have to keep re-learning this lesson. I'm still so tempted to see no progress just because the end is nowhere in sight instead of appreciating what I've gained in the process. A few years ago, I got the feeling that God was calling me to write a book on a specific topic. It was a daunting task, and I felt kind of intimidated. I invested a lot of time and discipline into researching and writing this book, and when it was finally finished, I felt a huge surge of exultation. It was done! And yet, that was only the first step. Next I had to figure out how share it with others. It was like I was standing right back at the beginning of that two-year project, only this time I had to do something I'm not naturally good at—networking and promotion. I couldn't figure out what to do. I e-mailed some queries to literary agents and got the typical rejections. I asked a few people to read the book, and only a handful of them did. (Only one person sent back detailed notes.) I wallowed in my seemingly pointless mission. But slowly, a step at a time, I'm beginning to pick up and keep moving. I started this blog as a way to help myself learn how to reach out to others and share my thoughts. I looked up Christian writers' conferences that I could potentially attend in 2010. I talked to Christian friends about my struggles. I got some unexpected advice—that I should consider teaching and speaking about the content of my book in Sunday school classes and at youth groups as a way to help me get used to sharing the message. All of a sudden the outlook doesn't look so bleak, even though the path is still uncertain.

I don't know where this project is going or how long it will take. I don't even know if publication is even one of my destinations. There is no end goal for me to focus on because my mission is simply to share whatever wisdom God has given me with as many people as possible. How could I ever completely finish that task? Each step is scary for me. It was hard to make myself write a book as I worried about what people would think of my ideas or my prose. It's uncomfortable for me to put my thoughts out into the wide world and to try to get people to pay attention to what God's given me to say. I'm not really good with children (I don't have any), and the thought of teaching a Sunday school class terrifies me.

And yet, where God leads, I must go, even if it's scary, even if there is no specific goal in sight. At least along the way I will learn some important lessons: faith, trust, charity, and hopefully the ability to talk to children effectively. I can't get bogged down in frustration just because there's a next step. That next step is a golden opportunity for more personal growth and for more chances to touch others with God's love. I am incredibly lucky that God gives me the unlimited opportunities that come with all of those next steps.

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