That Christ May Be My Ocean

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I just finished Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. The last two lines of the book read, “My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” It’s a good quote.

I have a problem. I’m no good at committing to following. When I read the Gospels, I don’t closely identify with Peter or John or Matthew. Instead, I want to be Jesus. He’s the hero. After all, I think, he’s the one I’m supposed to be trying to be more like.

It’s necessary to remind myself that I’ve not been called to be Jesus, but to commit, to submit, and to follow him.

I try to imagine what it must have been like to be Peter, one of Jesus’s first disciples. I try to imagine how special that must have felt, as if Jesus was recognizing some skill in Peter that no one else had. Peter was a fisherman. No one expected him to be able to study theology, and then a rabbi comes by and says that he can. He must have felt so smart.

And then, Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector. How frustrating it must have been for Peter to be told that a tax collector was his equal. How frustrating it must have been for Matthew to be told that a fisherman was his equal.

Last year, a mentor asked me to lead a small group bible study in a campus ministry. I felt honored. I felt important. I felt needed. I felt like Peter being called for the first time.

I built up all of these illusions of myself where my mentor and others had recognized my incredible, life-altering leadership abilities. They wanted me as a small group leader because I was so thoughtful and intelligent. Pretty soon, I was up so high that my small group started to feel like a weekly charity that I gave. I, the great mighty Spencer, for one night once a week, condescended to my peers to give them the sweet manna that poured from my mouth.

Then, things started to get difficult. Being in Christian community is hard. It wasn’t meeting all of the demands I had placed on it. I shared these feelings with my mentor. I told him I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. In some crazy prideful way, I thought I was being like Jesus, going my own way, doing my own thing.

My mentor calmly told me that he didn’t just pick me because I was well-suited for the role. He wanted me to lead a small group because that’s where I needed to be for my own spiritual growth and health.

The realization stunned me. I realized I had been acting like a drop of water that wanted to be an ocean. I wanted to call the shots. I wanted the community to be perfect for me.

I have this urge often—to leave when things get difficult and to start my own thing that will be “perfect.”  Commitment is not something I’m good at. I desire my writing to be publishable in its first draft, and when I have to give a piece an edit, I seriously consider ditching it altogether. I desire my relationships to be comfortably and healthily intimate from the very beginning. And when I have to continue to spend time with a person who I keep failing to go deep with, I stop calling that person. But nothing that comes solely from me will ever be perfect. And everything that comes from God is.

The real issue is that when I allow my problems with commitment to creep into other parts of my life, it begins to affect my relationship with God. Because what is faith if not commitment? And so sometimes, when I am particularly bad at committing to a project, to a community, to a person, I also fail to commit my life to Christ. I get everything backwards.

If I commit to Christ, He will redeem my writing projects, my communities, my relationships.

Christ is my ocean. He has not called me to make an ocean myself. He’s just called me to exist in His.

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417700_298818406883085_156148304_nSpencer Smith is a senior at Ohio University. He has a heart for the mid-west, believes the world can be and should be changed, and thinks that he has more in common with Ryan Gosling than most people might first think. Right now, he is working on seeing God in all that he does. Read more of his thoughts here.

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Who Are You Leaving Out?

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I was sitting in a Bible study listening to someone talk about God as Father when I started to get an uneasy feeling. “I think of God’s kindness the way I think about a parent’s kindness. It’s expected so much so that when we see parents being unkind to their children, it’s uncomfortable.” The small university classroom was filled with somewhere between twenty and thirty college-aged students, and I started wondering: for how many of these students was this metaphor way off?

I’m an English literature major, and I’m extremely fond of critical race theory and feminist literary criticism. One of the principles that always surprises me about these disciplines is their commitment to inclusion. For the most part, they seek to break down definitions, terms, ideas, and ways of thinking that are divisive. And when it becomes clear that a term that has been popularly used by either discipline is too divisive, the theorists stop using it, instead electing better, more inclusive terms.

Sometimes I worry that this is a principle that American Christianity hasn’t learned.  

God is not just Father. He is Judge (Psalm 7:11); He is Master (Colossians 4:1); He is King (Psalm 10:16); He is Lord; He is Creator (Isaiah 40:28); He is Lover; and then in Christ, He is Teacher (Matthew 19:16); He is human (Romans 5:12); He is Son (Matthew 16:16); He is Brother (13:55); He is Husband (Ephesians 5).

One of the reasons God presents himself in so many ways is because each of these comparisons is imperfect.

Judges are not always fair; masters can be cruel; kings can be corrupt; creators can waste their talents; lovers can be selfish; teachers can be wrong; sons can be ungrateful; brothers can be spiteful; husbands can be abusive; and fathers can be unloving.

Too often, especially in American Christianity, we want to box God in.

We want to place Him within a certain metaphor and Christianity with Him. The problem with boxes (besides the whole thing where they limit God’s limitlessness), though, is that they are man-made. They are constructed on the things we know, the metaphors we are most comfortable with. It’s as if we take something that makes sense to us and try to universalize it.

We say, “God provided me with a spouse so surely He will provide one to you as well.”

Or, “I felt called to missions work. I bet you will be, too.”

Or, “I love my church. I don’t understand why you don’t like it here, too.”

More and more, as I have learned to walk with God, I find myself thinking “Who am I leaving out?” Jesus tells us to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, or, in other words, to everyone.

So when I describe God solely as Father, am I leaving out those who don’t know their fathers or those who have shaky relationships with them? When I associate my middle-class existence in America not with the wealthy in James’s letter, but with the poor, am I leaving out those who my own wealth hurts? When I tell people God wants them to get married, am I leaving out those who want to remain single or who God has blessed in other ways?

God is big. He doesn’t leave anyone out. His story is for everyone.

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Spencer Smith is a senior at Ohio University. He has a heart for the mid-west, believes the world can be and should be changed, and thinks that he has more in common with Ryan Gosling than most people might first think. Right now, he is working on seeing God in all that he does. Read more of his thoughts here.