Wading boots

Pastor Nathan told us a story about how he loved to fish when he was a little boy, about ten or eleven. He loved it so much, and he thought, “If I could just get out farther, then I could really catch something.” So his mama bought him some wading boots. With the waders on, he could get a whole foot or two deeper in the water, but he still had to be careful because of the way the sides drooped down and would let water in. He was so excited, and he fearlessly waded out into the water… then he felt himself sinking into the mud at the bottom. He tried to move, but the boots were held in place by the mud that was sucking them down. He couldn’t get them to budge. He quickly realized that the only way to get loose was to leave the boots behind. He had to come up out of them in order to be free.

It’s a lot like sin, don’t you think? We convince ourselves we can get a little bit closer, get in just a little bit deeper, mistakenly thinking we have the power to pull ourselves out when things start to get a little dangerous. We think it’s OK to get in up to our ankles, then we’ll go to our knees, then maybe even our waists. But we won’t get in all the way, and we won’t do it without a little bit of protection. We put on the illusion of safety. We tell a friend to hold us accountable, or we ask someone at church to pray for us. But we don’t stay out of the water. Oftentimes, we find ourselves going in just a little bit further. One more inch… one more… there! We’re still OK. We can still see the shore. Forget all the dangers that might lurk in the waters, we’re focused on the surface, on ourselves, on how far we can push it. We urge a friend to tell us all the details of a situation, feigning concern, then we gossip to another friend under the guise of a prayer request. We might start with a simple conversation, then become friends with someone we see at work or around town, then think, well, it wouldn’t hurt to text them. And before you know it, the harmless flirtation has serious repercussions on a marriage, and on the kids, and on everyone involved. We think, I’ve had a hard day, so we pour ourselves a drink to help us sleep. Then maybe two, and maybe three the next night. Before we know it, moderation is a thing of the past. The thing we thought we could control is controlling us.

I’m strong, I’m a Christian, I’m walking right with God, we say. We think that God winks at our mishaps, fondly shaking His head at all the times we mess up. We pray, genuinely repentant, on Sunday mornings, and then go home and make excuses for ourselves all week long. But our God, while forgiving and gracious and merciful, is first and foremost holy. All the un-holy things we do put a wedge between us and Him. Instead of inching closer to sin, we should be inching closer to God, before the current gets too strong, and the mud too deep, and we find that we’re stuck. We need to come up out of the sin that entangles us and let it go. It’s OK to leave it behind. When we are truly walking with God, that’s where sin belongs. Behind us.

My offering

"Your stories, they are a gift. They were given only to you. You are the only one who could have experienced them the way that you did. You are the only one who can tell them the way you do. They were a gift, and it is your obligation to offer that back, to do what you can do with it and offer it back to the Lord." These aren't the exact words of a friend of mine, but this is how I remember a conversation with a fellow writer several weeks ago.

These words have rolled around in the gapingly open, empty void inside my head ever since.

These are my stories. I don't just have the option of telling them. I have an obligation. I do believe that to be true. That's how it feels to me, anyway. It also helps explain the power I feel when I do just that, when I record my experiences in writing, when I step back, out of the way, and let God take over.

Tonight I learned at Bible study something I already knew, but I connected to it in a whole new way. Christians often quote the part of the Scripture that says, "Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice." OK, I know that and try to do it. And I find myself getting all puffed up when I do it, feeling proud, feeling blessed and holy. But I think the most important part is next: "For this is your reasonable act of service." Oh. It's not going above and beyond. When I operate under the power of the gifts He has given me, when I am simply doing what I am good at, when I am using my abilities, both the ones that come naturally and the ones that I've worked hard to develop - I'm only doing what I'm supposed to do. I'm not making God proud of me. I'm not earn brownie points. No, I'm just doing my duty. It's no more impressive than a child not throwing their juice boxes on the floor. (Although in my household, that is something that would be impressive.)

So I'm putting these two ideas together, and this year for Christmas, Lord, I am giving you an offering. I am going to use what you have given me, the stories of my life, of my faith, and write them to give back to you. I don't care if anything comes from them. I don't care if there seems to be no purpose. I am simply going to move forward into the bare minimum category. By writing for you every day, maybe, hopefully, I will advance out of the bare minimum category into something more. But right now, I'm not even doing what I'm supposed to do. I'm not cleaning my room, doing the dishes, or making my bed, so to speak. Bare minimums. And if I want to find more, I have to first step into that. So here I go, stepping forward in faith, using what you've given me, asking you to accept this humble offering.