how I discovered the secrets of the universe and got happy for the first time in my life.
I took a short hiatus from the blog last week as I was sick for several days. I solicited some ideas from friends for a couple of short blog series I’ve been excited about, and am planning to do some more leadership-centric stuff. Specifically, with my head caught in the rhythms, numbers and symbols of Revelation, they were going to be in “7′s.” They will still follow, but it is strangely difficult to write about anything right now beyond the immediacy of what God’s Spirit is doing in me. On one hand, there is such an effortless, tangible grace that I feel like I’m full of ideas and creativity and sophia (wisdom) that comes from another place, as if the Spirit who brooded over the abyss is hovering above my head. On the other hand, life and ministry right now has such a stark simplicity to it that it feels I have only one thing to say.
The discovery is no more or less profound that this: at 33 years old, I believe for the first time in my life that I am truly, utterly, madly loved by God. And that knowledge has re-shaped everything else about my life. In one way, the scenery is the same. In another way, I feel like I’m still months inside my new skin.
My wife pegged my personality as that of an “otter”, free-spirited and fun-loving. And of course that is true, I’ve always had a strong dose of fun and mischief. But I can also say, without overstating the case, I think this is the first time in my adult life that I have been truly and consistently happy. It almost makes me feel I need to meet everybody in my life again for the first time. I have had moments of great peace, great clarity, great joy. I have always had people around me that make my life rich in love and laughter. Yet I don’t think I realized that despite those fragments of abundant life, that I wasn’t really ever happy. It’s the kind of thing I don’t think you necessarily know you are missing until you’ve found it.
Happiness, of course, seems a theologically flawed word to contemporary Christians. In our culture, happiness is often labeled as a fleeting good feeling from temporal pleasure, whereas joy is deep, abiding, and not rooted in circumstance. Thus we speak in variations of “You can’t always be happy but you can have joy,” or “God doesn’t want you to be happy, He wants you to be holy.” But I won’t let evangelical Church culture steal my good word. Happiness, in the ancient sense, as described in the work of great souls like Thomas Aquinas, was no light thing. To be happy was to be fulfilled in the deepest sense of the word, to know your place in God and in the world. There is no other word for what I am right now, friends–I am happy. Holiness is wholeness, and wholeness is happiness.
That is not to say that life and ministry are not demanding. The called life is not easy, and much work is required. But how happy it is to abide in Christ, to feel Him speaking through me and touching through me with such grace and ease. How happy the work is, even when you are still plowing, when His yoke is easy and His burden is light!
I am happy because at 33, I now completely believe that I am God’s beloved. And while I have preached in such a way as to bring many into that reality, that gift is just that–a gift from outside myself that does not originate in me and is not entirely in my control. I have spoken of the joy of knowing God in this way many times, but was less truthful than I knew. I remember in the 80′s/90′s there was a Christian comedian named Mike Warnke who, at least in part, faked his testimony of being converted from being some sort of Satanic priest. My lie was not so sinister, as I was walking in the light I was given. There were moments, there were times, when I knew what was to be loved by God more than I did before. But in retrospect, that knowledge was so partial as to almost be negligible.
It feels like I have discovered the secrets of the universe. It makes it hard to talk about anything else. So if I was writing about leadership, I would basically just get around to telling you that all my bad leadership decisions came out of not fully realizing the love of the Father, and all of the good ones came out of being secure in it. If I was writing about basketball or basket weaving, I would probably still be talking about the same things. Scripture, in all of its complexity and diverse witness, seems shockingly simple now. The whole thing seems summed up in the invitation of love offered in Revelation 22.17 “The Spirit and the Bride say Come!” And there are really no stories except stories of people moving closer or at least attempting to move further away from the love of God. There is no action to be taken except to accept the invitation into God’s Triune love or to reject it, and really everything else that happens from there is a postscript.
What delirious simplicity. I love my wife, I love my church, I love my friends. I think my new identity may cause friends old and new to have to learn how to relate to me differently, but that is no matter. I love to preach, and I can say without the slightest trace of pride that I’ve been preaching the great messages of my life and perhaps a lifetime, because they are so clearly a gift that I do not own nor claim. All of this, and so much more by way of colors and lights and sounds–from one simple truth: I finally believe God loves me.
No wonder Paul prayed for the Ephesians in 3.18-19 that they “may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” There is quite literally nothing else to know. Or at the very least, when you even begin to comprehend it, nothing else you would find interesting.
The next couple of entries are simple reflections that come from this inside-out transformation.