Holiness Isn’t Awaiting You “Out There”

The last picture I posted on social media before Iva was born (the day before, as a matter of fact) was of my pregnant belly looming over the study Bible and journal on my lap. A warm coffee and lit candle can be spotted in the background. Though I was still busy and responsible for a lot of things at that point in my life, I could always reliably find the space in my schedule (though not always the motivation) to have an elaborate, focused “quiet time.” You know what I mean – a time when you can sit for an hour or more, undisturbed, reveling in the profundity of your thoughts and the beauty surrounding you, and almost tangibly feeling your soul expand with peace and joy and all the rest of those warm, spiritual emotions we often long for.

That was a lovely season in life, but it was a season all the same. As a newborn, Iva had exceptional difficulty with eating and sleeping, and I don’t remember even briefly registering the thought of opening my Bible for those first few days postpartum. I was desperately trying to adjust to being the round-the-clock caregiver of a helpless, distraught little person while also figuring out how to heal from giving birth. Whatever version of myself that had cherished things like theology and meditating and enjoying sunrises was replaced by a new self that I didn’t recognize at all – one who thoughts were consumed with baby care, sleep, and basic survival. At least, in the moment it seemed like my “real” self was replaced.

The weight of everything that changed when we brought our baby home at 1:30 in the morning on the last day of February felt crushing at first, in part because I had to struggle against resentment over the things I had lost – perhaps for a very long time – due to my new responsibilities. However, God was faithful in the following days and weeks to show me the faithlessness of my inner spiritual idealism. This new season of life hadn’t done away with who I had been in Christ. Motherhood had not diminished or fragmented me; it had added something. It had created new need, new dependency, new humility, new perspective. And since the redemption of my soul was never reliant on who I was to begin with, there was no good reason to think I had suffered a spiritual loss just because I had lost access to one idealistic version of Christian living.

Though I would have told you at the time that I didn’t believe in a split between secular and sacred realities, my attitude toward the means of grace (prayer, Scripture reading, attending church, etc.) when the going got tough revealed that I didn’t trust that God would be present and active in the minor, mundane details of life. I didn’t believe He would be faithful to reveal Himself in the five verses I had time to study before the baby woke up. I didn’t believe He would hear my quick, desperate, three-word-long prayer for help and strength if it were the only prayer I prayed that day. I didn’t believe it mattered that I went to church since I spent most of the service taking care of the baby, unable to concentrate deeply on the teaching message (or see all the song lyrics because Iva is clawing at my face mask and glasses).

I didn’t believe God was big enough or good enough to meet me in those places. I thought spiritual joy and holiness had slipped out of my grasp . . . because someone, somewhere had convinced me that the Christian life was chiefly about studying deep theology and “experiencing” God’s presence in some transcendent way. Rather, holiness was about being faithful with the little moments and opportunities that I had, trusting He could and would reveal Himself in my real daily life.

Now, of course I don’t think we should never study deep theology or enjoy those moments where we feel more spiritually in-tune than usual; and if we are missing out on that due to our own sin and mismanagement of time and energy, then we are at fault. But if we find ourselves in circumstances that truly prevent us from engaging in deep meditation on the things of God, we can find hope in the knowledge that the presence and power of God are not limited to special times. Rather, if we are believers, we have the presence and power of God residing in us through the Holy Spirit at all times. When we’re at work, when we’re washing dishes, when we’re changing diapers, when we’re hiking, when we’re traveling, God is with us.

How does this constant presence change things? How does the Christian life differ from other lives even though our days and duties look similar to those of unbelievers? Yes, one essential difference is that we should demonstrate a commitment to prayer and meditation on Scripture. However, holiness isn’t encompassed in these two traits or activities. And this is the truth I have been missing (or avoiding, more accurately).

So I consider Romans 12:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 

The Christian life is not just what happens when we sit and study Calvin’s Institutes by the light of a pumpkin spice candle. It is not just what happens when we run away to the mountains and spend hours in profound thought about deep spiritual matters. If that were the case, Christianity would be reserved for a band of elites who always have the time and money and space in their lives for those things; and if we were to believe that, we would be joining with the example of the Roman Catholic church, which thereby kept the things of God out of reach for “laypersons” and reserved holiness for monks and nuns and priests. (Thank God for the Protestant Reformation!)

Rather, we need to believe that the Christian life is what happens when our love for God fills us up and flows out into patterns of obedience. We treat people differently. We view our habits and goals differently. We approach our marriage and parenting roles differently. We practice kindness and patience. We bless our enemies. We humble ourselves. We give generously. We do these things that are hard but clear, painful but necessary . . . and we even prioritize them over those things that are mysterious and harder to interpret.

No more believing in a fragmented Christianity. May we pray for and practice a holistic Christianity that believes Christ is Lord over all of life.

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