I've been spending a lot of time in the Gospel of St. Matthew lately, which I will admit is not at all my favorite. I'm a big fan of St. Luke and St. John, which may be covered in just as much black ink as they are red letters in my Bible, which I should probably set aside in favor of a new one to mark up, but I can't bare to part with it. Not just yet. It's slow going, gleaning a love for Matthew. Funny, because it's Christ and His teachings, so the natural compulsion should be simply to latch on and delight as I would with the other Gospels. Not so. Perhaps it's the writing style, perhaps it's the structure, but there's just something not appealing to me about sitting down to read that particular part of the Word. Now, were I to be able to open up to another part of the Bible, I'd be rather delighted, but Matthew is a struggle. I have found myself every morning praying rather oddly before I engage the text. As opposed to normal prayer along the lines of seeing Him clearly and taking from the passages as He would desire me too, I'm actually praying to the Lord of Hosts to help me like that part of the Bible. To be able to make it through it, to not be so annoyed. I know this isn't the "good Christian" response to any part of the Bible, but I also think it's not the worst struggle I could be having.
Sure enough, though, the good Lord answers prayer, even when the answer is simple and silent. He drew me into passages, little snippets, that have been transforming me. Completely shaking my core, actually. (Maybe that's why my spirit resisted it so, the Spirit had work to do.)
One passage has been resinating with me for some time now, back a few weeks ago when it was apart of the Advent lectionary readings and two days ago when it was part of my readings in addition to the lectionary.
As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John [the Baptizer], "What did you go into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces! But what did you got out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet." (Matthew 11:7-10 NASB)
I am easily jealous and easily feel lonely. I didn't have the best experience when it came to growing up and being accepted by my peers. (Let's be honest, the fact that I used expressions like "my peers" was not going to help me out in that regard.) I coped with the feeling of being ostracized by convincing myself that I was superior somehow, which surprisingly did not help matters at all. Over the years, my security and emotional needs were largely consumed with what others thought of me. Later in life, by the time I was a senior in high school, I was to a place where I felt at least favored to an extent, but I admit to even being baffled that my girlfriend at the time wanted to have anything to do with me and feared breaking up more than anything. I was acquire relationships as a sense of validation and justification for my existence. Now, I'm not really an idiot, but feelings have a funny way of overriding good common sense. I told myself college would be better and that I would finally be accepted for the eccentric I was. This proved less than true. My first couple years were hard, emotional mountains of needing to be validated and finding all of it an everything and everyone but the Source. Now I didn't go crazy, didn't start shooting heroine or drinking myself under the table, but emotionally I became vacant and vacuous. My greater need for morality held in check the "extremes" that can be part of feeling that way, but that didn't negate the struggle my soul was in.
I have since that time been exceptionally blessed by an amazing and abundant group of people in my life who accept, love, and nurture me. Godly people of great faith, who I am truly humbled to know and share life with, but am sure I'm not good at showing how grateful I am. Some mornings, this is the cruel honesty, I wake up and wonder if they're going to open their eyes that morning and realize I'm not good enough. Those are the dark days. They're not many, but they nonetheless are. I would spend all kinds of time in prayer about having friends and people in my life to share it with, but then would spend even more time praying (though not really to God, perhaps to myself) that I wouldn't screw up and they would see who I was: messed up, fidgety, haphazard, hurt, loud, brash, a know-it-all. Again, these are the dark days. I spent a lot of time educating myself (read: repeating over and over) that feelings are just that and don't equate truth, but that didn't negate nor weaken the gut wrenching nature of those feelings. I would cry out to God to overcome it, but my cry was largely self-centered on my validation: If only one of them would text me, I would feel a bit better. (Seriously. I think all of us can admit to having some really odd and irrational arguments in our mind from time to time.)
That's been changing this Christmas. I mentioned above that the passage about St. John the Baptizer has been on my mind a lot lately. When I first read it, it was like the voice of God, to the point of being almost audible, spoke in my ear: "Preston, what did you go out to the wilderness to see?" I thought about that in silence for some time. I knew exactly what it meant and wasn't all confused, I just didn't want to answer. God was asking something fairly simply and direct: why was I so preoccupied with envisioning how my life should be and not how He has made it to be. Had He not made me with purpose? Had He not a specific task and work in mind when He formed me? Was I not an heir to a kingdom that I was to share in provided that I seek His face, wherever and however that was? Why did I keep "going into the wilderness," my wilderness, expecting things to be any different than how He desired them to be?
I'm fortunately not stupid enough, at least in that moment, to tell God that I deserve more. Far from it, I can't even begin to list the amount of blessings that He has poured upon me over the past year and well before that. The thought of them brings tears to my eyes. Should I even dare start with the people I wouldn't be able to write from shaking with joy. Should I try to list the odd little "stuff" that kind of falls in my lap out of divine Hands, I'd not know how to even articulate it.
But I want to be liked by everyone.
There it was. The cruel and honest honesty that was always lingering beneath the surface. The desire that is ridiculous, but the desire that consumed me. I was annoyed and frustrated, because so many people who were close to me believed that I was always so content in my little world. I had no needs. I had no hunger for companionship. I could go off and be completely fine by myself. And I couldn't. It was a torture for me. A tragedy each time I went home alone. Summers spent alone. Breaks spent alone. It was an emptiness.
But what had I gone to the wilderness to see? When I accepted His Lordship of my life so many years ago, when I committed again and again to the new paths He set before me, when I trusted Him in the midst of struggle and strife, what had I gone to the wilderness to see? Was I there expecting to see my life as a promo trailer for Gossip Girl or did I expect to see the life of one who wears sackcloth and eats locusts but does so rejoicing, because the Lord planted a song in his mouth that was to be for many people a most beautiful melody leading them to Life.
I have been entrusted with a basket of talents, but I have been setting them aside in favor of focusing on a life that I was never created to have. I am by no means John, nor do I think myself much of a prophet most days, but I do know that He has given me some very good things to do unto His name. What He's been teaching me this Christmas is to delight in that. I am becoming pleased with who I am and, more importantly, who He is making me to be. I am less worried with who calls or texts (or rather, it's a different kind of joy when that happens, a real joy, not a lifeline), I am less frightened by spending a day in solitude, I am becoming hungry to go into the wilderness and meet with Him, to learn at His table, to sit by the fire in silence. He is my joy. He is my sufficiency.
What did I go into the wilderness to see? I went expecting to find a scripted life that was mine to dictate and determine.
I found an unscripted life, with a very knowing Director. It's better. Quite better.
Maybe St. Matthew isn't so bad after all.