What have you learned about yourself this year? You have learned so many things, some of it new, some of it simply restated and reiterated in different ways. You have learned so much that when someone recently asked you, “How is life?” you replied, “Life? Life is a learning experience.” And you meant it. Because to say that you are doing well would be inaccurate. To say that you are doing poorly would be also inaccurate. Because you are not simply a state of being, you are a person in the process of transformation. Life is a learning experience. It is all about the learning.
More than anything else, God is teaching you this year what it means to love people. You have never before realized how deep and ambiguous a thing it is to love. Sometimes, loving someone means reaching out to them, writing them a letter, holding them while they cry. Sometimes, loving someone means not reaching out to them, not writing them a letter, not holding them while they cry; but instead, stepping back, and letting Jesus meet them in their pain. Letting him be the one to reach out for them, and speak words of love to them, and hold them in their pain. Sometimes, Rachel, if you try too hard to care for another person, you can get in the way of them meeting with Christ. And that, that is the most important thing. That is the reason for it all. If they do not meet Christ in their pain because they are too busy meeting you, then you are not loving them well.
And if you’re honest with yourself, you know that much of the time, your desire to care for someone else is not truly entirely out of love for the other person – it is also out of love for yourself. God is teaching you about the extent of your own selfishness, and how that selfishness invades every part of your interactions with other people. You want to feel useful. You want to feel needed. You who have lived so long with loneliness and the pervading belief that you are meaningless, want to feel that you have meaning. And you find that in bringing comfort to other people. Wanting to care for someone is not wrong, Rachel. There is great beauty in that, and God has used you. Trust that He has used you. But there is a selfish and a godly motive behind everything that we do, and it would be foolish to be blind to the selfish part of your motives.
You are learning that your loneliness is behind much of your sin. You are learning that you often try to use friendship to fulfill that part of you that feels lonely and empty. You are learning that friendship cannot stand when it is used for something, used to accomplish something, or used to not feel a certain emotion. You are learning that when you do anything out of your loneliness, it becomes unhealthy. It can turn friendship unhealthy faster than you can blink. It can lead you to depend on other people, to ask them to be something for you that they were never meant to be and are not capable of being. Only Jesus can love you with the intimacy that you are searching for. Friendship is beautiful and it can be deeply meaningful – you know that, you’ve experienced it – but it was never meant to fill you.
And you are learning that it is the place of emptiness inside of you, this place that try as hard as you have, you cannot fill – it is in this place that you find Jesus. Like Frederick Buechner writes, you find Christ most clearly in your missing of him. And he comes. He fills. Not with great, soaring wings like the psalms speak of, but with a quiet presence that can easily be mistaken for your own solitude. He speaks – not with loud, heralding words, but in the gentleness of verses you have memorized long ago. Indeed, you find that Christ’s presence in your life can almost always be mistaken for something humanely explainable – your own memory, or the solitude you created. But just because it’s you does not mean that it is not also him. Jesus meets us in the space that we create for Him. That means that even though the space bears your fingerprints, that does not mean it does not also bear his.
Life is transformation, and change is slow. You do not want to interact with people in unhealthy ways, but sometimes you do. You do not want to use friendship to fulfill your loneliness, but sometimes you do. You do not want to live out of selfishness, but it is, to an extent, inevitable. And the slowness of change can be agonizing – because you see the person that you want to be, but you feel so far from being it. You see the pattern of sin, but you’re helpless to break the cycle. And yet, Rachel, you are learning that change is slow, but it is beautiful. If it were a quick process, you would not have the beauty. And the point of it all is not about the result of the transformation, but the process of transformation itself. You are not just on a journey, you are a journey. And you already know the end. The end is Christ. The end is the Jesus in you finally overwhelming the you that is in you. The end is the Kingdom coming down not just to earth but to your own heart. You know the end – the end is not the point. The point is to grow, to transform, and to allow yourself to be molded into someone else.
It is slow. Growth is minimal. Sometimes, it is simply one small thing you did in 24 hours that was not for your own selfish motive. Sometimes, it is a small prayer for somebody else. That’s okay. Because in order to become like someone, you have to look at them. And if you were to become like Jesus in a day, you would stop looking at him as soon as you were done growing. But because growth is so slow, you have to keep looking at Christ. Again and again. Day by day. Minute by minute. Look to Christ. Keep looking to him, keep looking at him. And one day He will return, and looking at him will finally mean looking like Him. Let the beauty of that thought move you. One day, you will look like Christ. That is the Gospel. He came so that you could look at him. And he will come again so that you can look like him.