Letter to a Friend, Part Deux

Dear friend,

You might be wondering why I opted to write “Part Deux” as opposed to “Part Two.” Am I a snob? Am I trying to impress? Probably so.

Actually, no. 

I was once fluent in French. I majored in the language in university and had the opportunity to study abroad to develop fluency and experience French culture. The first few months, I spent my time with other Americans because I found it exhausting to speak French all the time. When I did speak the language, I would translate my English thoughts into French and the words would not make sense. I despaired of ever developing any kind of fluency.

Then one day, I had a breakthrough. I was sitting on the bus commuting to university, and I realized I had been daydreaming in French. To say I was excited is an understatement. I think I vaulted off the bus that day in joy.

I have since learned that speaking another language can change the way the mind works, and different character attributes can emerge. I can attest to this fact as it often feels like I am more open, flirtatious, and playful when I am speaking French. The unique character of my French friends may also have brought these traits out in me. At once, I loved my new country, the “new” me, and the friends I made there.

It wasn’t my idea to return to the States, but when I did, I felt isolated and alone because none of my local friends could empathize with the way that my heart and mind felt divided between two continents. I would speak about my experiences because they had become a part of me, and yet others found me snobbish. I missed the friends I left behind in Europe, and after a year and a half away, I struggled to reconnect with the friends with whom I had grown up.

While we eventually did reconnect, this life experience created a separateness in my most important relationships for a time. I felt like no one could understand what I was experiencing, and I felt so terribly alone. I felt like I had no one to turn to who would understand me or help me to reconcile these two halves. 

Have you ever felt this way? That there was something about you, your life experience, or your past that separates you from others? Or maybe it is something you are going through right now that is making you feel crazy or lonely?

I’ll say it here. I say it to others when they ask me now if they are going crazy (This still surprises me how often I am asked this question since I am not a mental health professional). 

My response to others questioning their sanity during these difficult times? “With everything going on in the world right now, if you’re not a little crazy, you’re not paying attention.”

Trust me on this. You haven’t cornered the market on crazy, and neither have I. Most people simply haven’t confirmed their diagnosis yet. We are a culture that thrives on caffeine, sugar and wine. The use of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds is at an all-time high. There is something about this world that makes us crazy. Can you feel it? We also can exhibit crazy-making behavior toward others and send them running into the arms of their favorite addiction. 

With the realization that so much is out of our control, we get a little crazy and wrestle control from and disrespect each other.

Spouses become strangers. Families break up. Communities divide. Churches split.

The Body of Christ

As a small group leader, one of my favorite exercises is to ask group members to individually write down as many attributes of the character of God as they can in a set period of time. This can be quite revealing about what we believe to be true about God (and as a result also about ourselves). One person might clearly see God as a God of justice; He or she sees the evil in the world and the sin and deception in human hearts and longs for God to set things right as He has promised. Another might see God as all-loving, merciful, and forgiving. He or she sees God as Comforter, as Friend, as the good Shepherd of human souls. Yet another might experience his or her separateness from God; that he or she will never be made right with God because of things done. Or perhaps the reverse is true, he or she might not fully understand God’s sovereignty, holiness and our own sin and the desperateness of our situation. We have a desperate need for a mediator between us and God; this is the perfect High Priest God has given us in Jesus Christ.

Where am I going with this?

To think rightly about God, we need to learn to appreciate the diversity of Christian community. We must intentionally seek out Christians who are different from us and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through the relationship. It is here that we get practical experience that teaches us about the fullness of God’s character.

Each person within the body of Christ reflects different communicable attributes of our awesome God. There are those who reflect God’s mercy and grace beautifully but never perfectly so. Others mirror God’s anger over sin (those things that separate us from God), but oftentimes find themselves caught up in unrighteous or even self-righteous anger because only God is perfectly holy. 

Yet others have learned the wisdom of patience by keeping their eyes firmly fixed on Jesus as they trust in His love for them and His lordship in their lives. They trust that God’s plans are infinitely better than they could possibly ever ask or imagine. 

Here we find the rest for our souls we so desperately crave. It is here, that the separateness and loneliness we feel when surrounded by people who are different from us, melts away, and we can be truly and fully integrated into authentic community.

How has your community recently shaped your understanding of who God is? How has God been using your community to smooth down the rough spots in you? 

For my part, God has been refining a humility and faithfulness in me through my most important relationships. I have also grown in gratitude for those Christians who are different from me. This is not a self-improvement project and certainly not something I would have gladly initiated, but I daily choose to trust God and His work in my life. It is because God is who He says He is and not because of anything I’ve done, that this transformation becomes possible. It is for His glory, not mine.

“Que le SEIGNEUR vous bénisse et vous protège! Que le SEIGNEUR fasse briller sur vous son visage et qu’il ait pitié de vous! Qu’il vous regarde avec bonté et qu’il vous donne la paix.” (Nombres 6:24-26, version Parole de Vie 2017)

(Peace). Alison

Photo credit: Bogdan Lazar on istockphoto.com

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