on fire

They were looking at me, everyone would think I was weird, you don’t just abandon your hands to the sky and expect to be treated like a normal human being, and there I was with tears streaming down my face because grace like rain had, indeed, fallen down on me. But could I raise my hands, say to the room yes this is me!, stand there open and unashamed? My body wasn’t used to expressing my brain.

One day: “I just want to say how much the youth group blesses me on Sundays. They set the example in worship here at the front. I love seeing them praising the Lord with their hands up and their voices strong. They are on fire for God.

It wasn’t weird. It was brave and right. I raised my hands that day. I was a witness.

I was thirteen.

Early Sunday morning, every Wednesday night, I was there at my high school church. Bible study, youth group, cleanup afterward, every youth retreat, mission trip, leadership retreat, small group leader. I preached once and I almost cried in front of everybody. But no one asked me to be on fire. No one told me to do more or be holier. They drenched my try-harder soul in grace and more grace, in a new covenant of God’s unending senseless love; gentle reminders of my weakness and deep, strong prayers for strength. It turns out those Neo-Calvinists know a thing or two about growing perfectionist teenage girls into women turning always back to God, thankful, beloved.

I was seventeen.

It was Christian college or no college and so I went to the biggest one I could find that didn’t have a bizarre dress code. At least, the school didn’t, but here were multiple prayer groups and people speaking in tongues at Thursday morning chapel; here were preachers trying to revival us twice a week and maybe a million subtle rules for holiness. I carefully tucked the tank tops under sweaters and shrugs. Most of the time.

Here was a man I loved, and here was a crushing dark-night depression that took my breath away. Here I was a year hostage under the mantra love is a choice. Here I finally did my penance for the breakup in week after week of suffocating guilt that I couldn’t do it, I’d never love, I hadn’t made the choice.

Here God released me and some better-than-friends dragged me out, and I discovered what others had tried to tell me: Love is a choice but romance is a mystery, and love can let go. The one you loved will heal, for this is the way of things. Everyone is not mine to carry.

I was twenty-one.

I was new to New York and I was making sacrifices for God like I’d vowed after the summer in Thailand. I never would have said it, but I was here to fix the world.

I was more alone than I could have known I’d be. I was unprepared to face down urban poverty. I did everything I knew how and still the world wasn’t fixed. It was cold and I was on food stamps; I flickered and sputtered against an icy wind. I didn’t know what I was doing or why or how, and God was silent except to provide – small miracle after small miracle.

I was twenty-two.

Would you believe, with all my good-and-bad evangelical baggage, I still want to be on fire for God? I was treated gently, I think, and I found the places at Christian college to sort a lot of it out. Certainly there were at times shame and competition to get better somehow. Certainly I helped to fuel them. This is a talent of mine.

But the fire wasn’t a fiction, I know this, and even when it has gone out I never found it a childish or unrealistic thing to want. The world needs people on fire. The world needs those who don’t hold back from life, mentors and go-outers and every-day-doers, lovers of the unbearable beauty and sadness of all this sacred beat-up earth. The world needs sustainable and downwardly mobile and praying and singing and still-here when things get hard, and none of these happen by accident.

Something about being on fire. I submit that the times I burned out were the times I thought I could fuel the fire myself, and those were the times I was consumed quicker than an unimpressive dud-sparkler. I would just keep trying and fixing and asking God to make me better instead of asking God to actually help me. I don’t mean this as another twisted way of saying that my unhappiness was all my fault because I should have done better. I only mean that I am learning now what it means to be small and weak and OK with it. I am learning to say I can’t and I won’t and someone else will. I am just not responsible for everything, or for very much at all. It turns out that was kind of a conceited belief.

Yes, fire looks different now. I am learning that there’s fire everywhere and I can catch it over and over. I am doing what I do because I feel at peace here, because it’s what I love, because it’s worship – not because I’m supposed to. I’m on my knees before a blazing New England autumn, I’m praying on sidewalk benches with my friends, I’m in the glow of Eucharist candles, I’m reading 1 Corinthians and blown away by love. I’m climbing roofs and scaling ladders chasing sunsets across the sky, I’m giving thanks for this outrageous display and I’m settling in with the ember of an American Spirit every once in a while. I write what is and what could be, I cry during praise choruses, I am a witness. I’m praying for the city and the tuna fish and the future and it’s probably all insane.

I am twenty-three, and I am on fire.

sunset

 

I’m linking up today with Addie Zierman for her synchroblog celebrating the release of her new book, When We Were On Fire. Check out the stories below.
Addie Zierman

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4 Comments

  1. I really liked this. It is filled with so much hope, and hope is a GOOD thing.

    Reply
  2. ” I am just not responsible for everything, or for very much at all. It turns out that was kind of a conceited belief.” Yes, I am learning this too. Lovely post.

    Reply
  3. haitiruth

     /  October 18, 2013

    Wonderful!

    Reply
  1. When We Were On Fire: Synchroblog Round-Up | Addie Zierman | How To Talk Evangelical

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