As Christmas break approached and I started saying, “see you in a month,” to people, I was struck with an all too familiar feeling of anxiety. I knew where this anxiety was coming from. It was coming from the knowledge that for roughly four weeks I would be away from my community, or as my heart has come to know them, the people who push me, teach me, learn from me, pray with me, sing with me, love me, and walk beside me as I walk beside Jesus. My anxiety was the anticipation of what was sure to be loneliness. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels pang of nervousness when stepping away from the people you count on, even if it’s just for a few weeks, but in those first few days of the loneliness of Christmas break I did not reach out to anyone in our community. Actually, I still haven’t reached out, because I have three months worth of experience in isolation under my belt that I’m thankfully aware of how to combat.
If you’ve talked to me for more than five minutes in the last three months, you know that I spent my summer in China, and it was one of the most difficult experiences of my existence (so far). It was difficult simply because I made the decision to go by myself, was therefore the only American there for the majority of the time, and I had no one to talk to. I spent three months being able to truly communicate with two people at the most (lots of people spoke English, but the language barrier was significantly larger than you’d probably expect), and I kept in contact with very few people in the states (time differences are the worst). For three months I lived inside my head, and even though I’m quite the introvert (so I spend most of my time in my head anyways) it was excruciating and exhausting. Oh, and do you want to know how many Christians I met there? One. And I met her on a day trip to another city, so I only got to spend a few hours talking to her. And do you know how many people wanted to hear/talk about God, or anything deep for that matter? Zero. I was plucked from a warm, caring, loving community, and placed in what felt like a cold, spiritually dry, lonely place. For the fist few weeks I dreaded going to work where no on would talk to me, and I equally dreaded coming back to my apartment where I was completely alone, and there was no one to talk to. One especially painfully lonely night (I remember it very clearly and I have my journal to aid my memory), I was reading my Bible and I came across Isaiah 42:16:
“And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.”
I felt God speak to me in that moment through His own words. I was very much, in a way, blindly living in China, but God guided me. I felt God changing my darkness to light. Not once did I feel forsaken by Him. He brought me there, I now believe, to be alone with him; or even to learn how to love him and know him in loneliness, and know that I’m never alone no matter how or what I feel. I would go as far as to say that my relationship with God would not have the kind of muscles it has now if I hadn’t gone to China by myself. My mornings were spent with God, my breaks at work were spent with God, and my evenings were spent with God. He was the only company I had in China (minus some FaceTimes, shout out to Blythe and Al). The only thing that made me sad about God being my only company was that it took me that long to realize the kind of company He is: comfort, peace, joy. I knew that God is supposed to be all these things from what I’ve read in the Bible, but I didn’t know for myself what it was like to experience all of them. For the first time I felt strong and able, not because I had a community supporting me (even though I know you all were), but because I was finally turning to God for support. I was finally turning to Him and His Word for all the things I needed. I wouldn’t know what it meant to truly rely on Him if he hadn’t so lovingly isolated me.
This is a tale to tell because I don’t think, I know that there is eternal value in being away from your community if you steward that time well. Read and memorize scripture in your solitude, pray and pray and pray in your solitude, listen in your solitude, fast in your solitude, and praise in your solitude. The strength backing up my relationship with God was built in doing all of those things alone with God. Jesus time and time again retreated to quiet places to be alone with God and pray to his father; he also studied and memorized scripture and gives us an example of why that is so important in Matthew 4:1-11 (give it a look). If Jesus is the one we’re choosing to follow, these too have to be examples we all mimic. So I’m going to challenge everyone in our community for the rest of break be diligent in reading/memorizing scripture, be diligent in praying, be diligent in listening, be diligent in fasting, be diligent in praise, be diligent in spending time alone with our God. Yes, we were created for companionship with one another, but we were created for companionship with God first. This is the reason that even as I sit at home in an empty house over Christmas break with no one to read scripture with, pray with, or sing with, I’m going to do them anyways and know that loneliness is not the reality, because God is with me. We’re all in the same boat being away from community right now, and for some of you that’s going to mean taking time off from praying, reading the Bible, spending time with God, etc., but I want to encourage you to do the opposite of that. Don’t take time off from those things, but add time to those things every day, and watch your head and heart knowledge of God grow.
Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me if you seek with all your heart.”
Amy, who would win in a fight between Rudolph and Frosty?
Umm…I’d say Rudolph- that’s a ridiculous question. It’s obvious, he’s a freaking reindeer. He could just like, kick Frosty’s snowball head off. I feel like that’s obvious.
That’s pretty violent, but also obvious.
Or… I mean, he has so many options. Take him near fire: dead. Kick off his head: dead. Wait a few months: its springtime now. Dead.
So, how did you come to this community?
That’s not an interesting story…I should just make something up. No, I’m pretty sure it was the same as everyone else: went to the org fair. I was looking for a Christian group to join, and then I saw Agape. They had candy; Whitney was there. I came on Wednesday nights and they were nice. The end.
What draws you into the community?
I think two things: one, you can really sense that the Holy Spirit is present and active among us, and two, we’re really good at caring for each other.
So, why are you a Christian?
Um, I don’t know- I think in like the most basic and logical sense, because I think it’s a reality- God is a reality. Following him is a natural reaction to realizing that. Also, I’m a Christian because God is faithful, so I think he’s great and I try to listen to him.
You answered a bit of this, but what draws you to Jesus?
I guess I hear a lot of people saying “oh, he’s a nice guy.” But actually, when I read the Gospels, Jesus says a lot of terrifying crap. So I think the real reason that I’m drawn to Jesus is because I have such a deeply ingrained sense that I am a million miles away from God. And Christ being the embodiment of God and the exact imprint of his nature and a mediator between me and God is absolutely essential for me. So, just the fact that I have a mediator and advocate before God, but it is God, and it’s Christ … it’s pretty wonderful.
What gives you hope?
I guess I just think of the Kingdom of God, and what the Kingdom of God is like. Not in a way of “this is what you ought to be like, or this how you ought to live.” But, it’s like when you feel as though you’re trapped in darkness, and then you realize there is no darkness in the Kingdom of God. The values of the Kingdom: life, light, joy, love, all those things are comforting. To think that these are the values of the God we worship, that these are the things he enjoys and wants … and to think that those realities are present in our life right now in some form, and they’ll be present in an even fuller reality later – that gives me hope. Also, it gives me hope when people embody that around me.
Okay, so recommend a thinker, author, pastor, prophet, provocateur; someone people should read more or listen to more or think about more.
My favorite for a long time was A.W. Tozer. I think he has a lot to say to the church today, and he lived in a way that reflected it, too. He and his wife never owned a car, and they gave away a ton of their proceeds away to people who needed it. Also, Rich Mullins.
Yeah? Why do you say Rich Mullins (Christian Musician/Ragamuffin/Prophet. see below) ?
I think he was the first person I ever recognized to embody the values of the gospel in the greater Evangelical universe of leaders – who do a lot of preaching and teaching – he was the first person I recognized who really embodied the Gospel.
Any parting words?
I should have thought of something clever. But I didn’t. I guess, just take heart. The things that are true about Christianity and Jesus and who God is are true on the good days, and on the really awful days.
As an aside, Rich Mullins is a genius. If you have the time, check out this clip.
Hello there kids, and welcome to a special (post)Thanksgiving edition of “Talk Into the Phone” with our special guest- that most Hogwartsian of seniors, the one and only Abbi Carlson.
What is your spirit thanksgiving food?
Why didn’t you let me prepare this?! I would say green bean casserole because it’s simultaneously healthy, because vegetables, but also saturated with good flavor. It’s got substance, but also a little interesting, enjoyable.
How did you find Agape?
I went to the org fair and I signed up on an email list, and I took a post card. I got home with a pile of post cards from the all the tables, and a few days later, after the org fair, I put them all on a calendar, like, which ones were which, where did I want to go, because it was a little overwhelming. So, I tried out lots of different clubs, but I liked Agape and Ecclesia because of the twice a week thing, and I really felt like I got to know people there, and it wasn’t like I was just there and then I left. All the frequent events sort of drew me in.
So, you sort of began to answer this, but what draws you into this community?
I feel like a lot of the people here genuinely care about each other, and not just like “oh, we gotta keep our numbers good,” but like, I go there and people are excited to see me and see other people and catch up on your lives and pray for each other, so the connection there.
Why are you a Christian?
Um…I’ll skip the “how I became a Christian” and go into “why am I still a Christian.” I guess I would say that I am confident that God is with me always, and that’s a comfort in the stress of life, that I know that I’m not doing this alone. A more powerful and “forever” thing, beyond everything else in this life is that I’ve got God on my side.
What draws you to Jesus?
His presence and comfort in parts of my life is definitely what brought me into a personal relationship with him.
So, what about his story sort of captures your imagination?
I liked that Jesus was kind of a rebel; he was in that “social justice” thing, not just following authority, but he cared about the poor. He loved people regardless of what they had done. I love that he talked back to all the priests and whatever, and spoke up for God’s heart for everybody and not just the law and strictness of the culture.
What feeds your soul- what sorts of things give you life?
I think I’m passionate about a lot of things- earlier this semester one of my nursing professors asked us what we were passionate about for our community teaching project, and I just had so many things. And some of them applied to nursing and public health things, and some applied to community and Christian things. I really love helping people be themselves, and so with the community at Ecclesia, and leading people into worship is life-giving to me. Also, running the Nerdfighter things, and helping people find other nerds that aren’t going to judge them about being excited about science or whatever, so in that form, I’m filled up by seeing people in their own element.
What book would you recommend?
I’d say Harry Potter, even though I’m sure that a lot of people in our community have already read it. But the more I’ve reread it, the more I believe it’s such a great book. Like from a literary standpoint and what John Granger talked about- kind of sneaking the spiritual significance of the faith journey and all this stuff into pop culture. People are really hungry for that spiritual stuff, but they are resistant. Sort of like the Narnia books.
Any final words?
I think just remember to be grateful, because there is so much to be grateful for in our lives.
You could even say they should be thankful.
It’s a little cheesy- I was trying to be a little more subtle, but I genuinely believe that our families, our roommates, our community, our education- a lot of people in the world don’t get that.
What are you thankful for?
This year I’m really thankful for my family, and I’m really glad I stayed close enough to go home and see them. I get late night catch-up sessions with my parents when I go home for work, and I can tell they support me and are proud of me. Also, I got to see a lot of my extended family last week for our birthday tradition, which was lovely.
And stuffing, I’m thankful for stuffing.
Saturday: A/E WHITE ELEPHANT UGLY SWEATHER PARTY 6-8 PM. Bring a “white elephant” gift and wear an ugly sweater. Word on the street is that Nick Cage is going to make an appearance.
Ecclesia: ADVENT CANDLELIGHT SERVICE @ 730 PM. Get your reflective spirit ready.