“I don’t know how to love Jesus without this church.”
—her voice came static-y through the marco polo message. And I sat up straighter; tears came to my eyes; she called it more feeling than truth but I felt the truth in it, the truth of it. Because I’ve known it too. I’ve just said it differently:
“I don’t know how to follow Jesus without a place to follow him to.”
“I don’t know how to follow Jesus without India.”
When I was in India, and all hell broke loose, I felt lost. I felt troubled. I was crying all the time. And writing all. the. time. Because writing was my escape, my place to go when the feelings were too much and I needed them out of my head and into words that I didn’t necessarily have to understand or share with someone else. Writing was my safe place. And most of my writing happened outside, on a balcony where I could physically get out of myself.
When I started to feel disconnected, when I started to cry about everything, when I thought I sensed a change coming, a call crumbling — that’s where I went. To the balcony. I was desperate; I needed God to tell me what to do. India didn’t feel like home any more, as it always had. Circumstances were harder than I wanted to admit. Language was the most humbling, horrible experience I’ve ever had. For weeks, I wrestled: Had I heard my calling wrong? Had I gotten it all wrong, for years?
So, on that balcony, I reread words that had solidified my calling to India. I reread words that I had read years before, and held onto for the in-between: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.”
And then, I kept reading Jacob’s story. Chapter after chapter of … movement.
Newsflash: he didn’t stay there, in the place where God spoke. He went on. To different lands and peoples and places. And then he came back, just passing through again. Bethel, the house of God, this place where he had heard these words—was never the place where his feet stayed for very long.
I remember shaking, and it wasn’t cold. Crying, and I couldn’t express why. My hand scribbled through words I felt I was hearing, new things I didn’t fully understand. I felt crushed by the weight of change I could feel being spoken over this season.
It was a shattering. Of all I felt I knew and loved and was called to.
I still don’t know if I got it wrong. If I misread things. My gut says I didn’t. My heart says God had to take me to this place of shattering, so that he could bring me more fully into my true identity in him that would follow him daily, not seasonally or based on a loaded word like “calling” or “vocation” or “ministry.”
What I do know is this:
The shattering was a place of identity crisis.
My identity, and by extension, my way of following Jesus, was shattered by change and circumstances. God invited me to stay in India anyway, to following him through the full extent of the shattering — which, by the way, didn’t really end when I left India, as I had expected it to — so that I could come out following him in new ways, forged by the fires of suffering through that long obedience.
I am not the same person I was when I left for India. My identity is not the same.
Because my identity was wrapped up in a place, in a very specific way of following Jesus that was more about salvation than sanctification, more about work than rest, more about growing wide than growing deep. The shattering forced me to unlearn that, because those ideas and ways of doing things didn’t work; they were dust at my feet.
And I’m still unlearning it.
I’m now in a secular 9 to 5, living and working and going to a church that’s not asking me to work my tail off. Instead, I’m in a church inviting me to learn more about grace and community and love. My carved out time with Jesus happens in such a sweet, secret, sacred place that looks nothing like the to-do lists and to-read lists and check-the-boxes of how good Jesus & I are today.
I don’t have a place I feel God is calling me to, nor a ministry he’s asking me to do anymore. And for awhile, it felt like I wasn’t following Jesus right, like I wasn’t doing something correctly or perfectly. But Jesus never asks us for perfect; he made us perfect by his perfection and love and sacrifice. And that’s enough. My feet are where he planted them, fully, deeply. Do I have a lot I can show you for that? Not really. He’s provided ways to love others, to walk with others, and — most importantly I think — to bring my heart to work.
I think that’s the following Jesus, the loving Jesus, my friend and I are really after. Feet where they’re put, heart wherever we go, following. Which, really, is just living with Jesus ahead of us. Of course we’ll bring our heart with us; it’s safe wherever he goes. Circumstances have screamed and still scream differently at us: “It’s not safe! Retreat! Freeze! You’ll be shattered all over again!”
But if Jesus is the retreat, the refuge for our hearts no matter where we go or how we change or what he asks us to do — safe or shattered, we’ll be okay.