On the shore
"Why not give your soul room to be reenchanted with Christ time and again?" â€“ "Gentle and Lowly," by Dane Ortlund.
"When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water and headed to shore." â€“ John 21: 7 (NLT)
I work with adolescents, and so when I write articles for you all, I usually talk about teenagers. There is nothing wrong with that; I've personally learned so much about Jesus from my young friends and getting to walk beside them. But it would be cheap to pretend that is the full scope of my experience in a faith community. I spend much of my time with adolescents, yes, but I also have deep, important relationships with people who aren't 16 years old.
They're more like 60, or 70, or older. And I would be remiss not to share with you the encouragement that has been for my relationship with Jesus.
Dane Ortlund published a book last year titled "Gentle and Lowly"; it's all about Jesus' heart. In one of the chapters, he discusses what it might look like to be romanced by the heart of Christ towards us, to feel a sense of wonder about his desire for us. I was deep in the Wallowa mountains when I read this chapter aloud, huddled in a hammock with one of my college-aged friends as we waited out a late-summer thunderstorm. As we talked about what it might look like to be reenchanted by Christ, I found myself drawn to Dane's explanation of a faith that lasts. He describes the faith of older saints we might encounter in our spiritual communities. And while he acknowledges that it takes discipline, determination and obedience to build a faith that lasts, he also gently directs the reader's attention to where re-enchantment might be found: "tast[ing], over many years, the surprise of a Christ for whom their very sins draw him in rather than push him away."
I live my life often in a posture of trying to prove to Jesus that I love him. I find myself going, going, going, and doing, doing, doing, all in an attempt to show God that I'm worth it. My actions remind me of the words of Peter in Matthew 26: "Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you" (v33, NLT). Such desperation, such a strong pleaâ€“don't let me betray you!
See how much I love you! Look at everything I've done, everything I'll do! A few verses later, he draws a sword and tries to prove his devotion even more strongly in the garden. I can't help but relate to Peter in his agitation. Doesn't Jesus know I love him? I have to keep showing him that I love him. Where's the enchantment in that, though? How to get back to the allure of when one first met Christ?
I love working with students because I get to see that moment over and over againâ€“meeting Christ and falling in love with him, the awe of how he feels about you. But I love my older friends as well, because they teach me that it is not just the bearing witness to that moment that builds a lasting faith, but the recognizing the truth of that for oneself as often as one can.
When all is said and done, Jesus still shows up on the shore of our life, and we can run to him; and not out of desperation and shame, but in surprise and love. I like to imagine the warmth that might have filled Peter's heart at seeing and recognizing his Lord. I like to imagine that he ran to him not to prove how much he loved Jesus, but because he felt the love Jesus had for him again. His friend was back. Despite swords, crosses, betrayals and empty promises, Jesus was back, standing on the shore, arms open.
As I sat in the hammock that day and lightning flashed through the forest and thunder echoed overhead, my mind wandered from nature's cathedral and back to the small place of worship where I get to gather with others on Sunday mornings. Most everyone I worship with has me beat in numbers of years by quite a bit and I am so grateful for that, because it means every Sunday, I see what faithfulness over years looks like.
When I often want to act out in desperation, when I draw my sword, when I claim I will never abandon him, I am gently reminded of what will really help me to build a lasting faithâ€“running towards my friend who is standing on the shoreline. What will really help me is as Dane says, not just knowing that Jesus loves me but feeling it. And it is my dear old friends who have illustrated and proved that to me.
So, will you let yourself be reenchanted with Jesus today? Let's grow old in the faith together.
Bella Bonanno is the area director for Crook County Young Life. She can be reached at 541-325-9862.
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