I am on a journey. I’m on a quest. An adventure even, and like most real adventures, it’s less fun and more difficult than the ones we imagine as kids or enjoy through the safety of a good book and a cozy chair.
While we are all experiencing the adventure to some degree, all of our adventures are different from everyone else’s. Currently, mine has to do primarily with figuring out how to live day in and day out both with intention and with other people.
The ‘old song’ of Christian life and participation in Christ and his body and the ‘new dance’ of a New Monastic intentional community called Portland Jeremiah House are coming to play not so much in lofty ideals and explosive, missional success but in daily details.
I could say a lot of different things about the challenges of the mundane or the nuances of a new situation. But what I’m thinking of is how much the strain of living with a houseful of people makes me feel like someone other than myself sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong. I still think it is a good situation for me, and it is not an issue of suppressing myself in order to please others or to force myself into a lifestyle that isn’t good for me. Just the opposite. I’m being stretched in ways I’ve never had the opportunity to be stretched before. I’ve had three types of living with other people in my life before: growing up with my family, having roommates in college, and getting married and starting a family of my own.
None of them were much of a challenge for me as far as interpersonal issues go. Not only is this situation distinct from any I’ve experienced before, but I am also different from the person I have been before or will ever be again.
What has been helping me find traction in dealing with the struggles I’m encountering in myself has three elements. 1) my church community, Evergreen, 2) my wise and gracious wife, 3) thinking in terms of pursuing faithfulness as Aaron and I once discussed that incorporates lessons from monasticism.
During this season of Lent, Evergreen is going through a series discussing the seven deadly sins. I know, it sounds a little odd. We’re not Catholic, but we’re doing it all the same. And it has been really, really good. As someone affirmed this morning, the discussions have been “thoughtful, intelligent, and measured.”
This isn’t your typical fire and brimstone, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” style series on sin. It has been a deep and sensitive exploration of seven difficult issues that, left unchecked, allow death to seep into our lives. Not only that, but it has been formative in helping me find a gasp of air in the midst of foundering in my own life.
The discussion that has had the most impact on me so far is another that sounds odd: sloth. Dustin acknowledged as part of his message that “sloth” is not a word we really use anymore other than about a furry animal. Without going into a lot of detail, what I took away was that though I want to be intentional (even being in an ‘intentional living community’) I have begun to allow trivialities to distract me from the truly important. Acknowledging that has been revolutionary for me.
Chrissy also has done a lot to help me discover what has been happening in my spirit and partner with me in exploring a way out. In fact, she has done the most for me of anything or anyone. Thank you, Chrissy :).
She asks me uncomfortable questions, provocative questions, and she pushes me to move toward health and goodness and Christlikeness. I’m not sure where I would be and what I would be doing, or even who I would be if she were not with me in life, but it certainly would not be here, and it would not be nearly so good.
After absorbing and processing the wisdom from Evergreen and Chrissy and having a chance to explain to someone what has motivated me to pursue living in community with Portland Jeremiah House (which was a transformative and renewing experience it itself), I have begun pursuing growth and intentionality and meaning with a renewed passion and commitment.
I have turned once again to the Monastic Coin—the shorthand way Aaron and I refer to pursuing immersion in the person of Christ and depth of relationship with him and his people alongside rigorous obedience and faithfulness to what we can hear of his call and see of the path he has laid out for us.
Immersion in Christ can take different forms, and I am attempting to find the right form(s) for my current context. Sharing prayers with my housemates in the mornings, following our rule of life together, praying alone with me and Jesus, reading Scripture, and reading other books are all part of my current process.
On the others side, and this is where it gets more tricky for me, is the obedience to what has been revealed to me. The center of my focus at this point is one of my very favorite passages in the Bible: Colossians 3:12-17. Here is my translation of it:
12 Therefore, clothe yourselves, as God’s chosen people, holy and loved, with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 putting up with each other and forgiving each other if anyone has any cause for complaint (just as the Lord forgives you, you need to do the same). 14 Above all these things, clothe yourselves with love, which is the bond that produces completeness. 15 Also, let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts, for being one body, you were called to peace, and be thankful. 16 Let Christ’s message dwell among you richly, teaching and advising each other with all wisdom, singing in psalms, praise songs, and spiritual songs graciously in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, let everything be relative to Lord Jesus’ name, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I love everything about this passage, and once again, I won’t spend much time trying to untangle the whole thing, but it provides me with a concise goal or rather a set of goals to pursue in regard to my character, particularly in how I interact with the people around me. As one of God’s chosen, the lifestyle that makes the most sense is one based in compassion, seeking other people’s good, humility, gentleness, patience, putting up with people’s shortcomings, forgiveness, love, peace, and unity.
Every moment is an opportunity to live in sync with these values or to abandon them. Abandoning them not only does harm to the people around me, to the relationships I have with them, but it also deteriorates my inner me. As I have been experiencing, it leads me to be dissatisfied and unhappy.
But now I am asking for help from the Holy Spirit, allowing the image of God to surface in me, and making an effort to pursue these qualities. I want to be faithful to answer Jesus’ call to live into these characteristics, and I am thankful I live in community with people who are helping me in my efforts.
Writing about this now is not so hard for me. Talking about it with our group recently was tough. I felt embarrassed, a little ashamed, uncertain, and very vulnerable. Being the amazing people they all are, they were nothing but supportive and helpful. I am grateful to have them in my life. They were instrumental in helping me switch directions, and now I can share it here without much trouble.
As I started out, we are all experiencing different journeys, but what makes all of them worthwhile is sharing them with each other and the God who loves us. I am (again) excited to see where the road takes me.