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August 26, 2013

the settle

I came of age in a culture where skirts could not be short enough. Where park benches were synonymous with kissing and dampness and moonlight. Where the fleshly feasts (that in many countries would be more hidden) called aloud from every street corner, magazine stand or radio hit.

These obsessions permeated almost everything, even the trusted summer camps where my parents would send us. Camp was a place for midnight serenades under the dorm windows, love notes being read in a microphone in the dining hall, and pair games. At age eleven, I was dressed up in a denim dress and encouraged to hold hands with a my camp crush. To top it all off, there was usually a romantic dinner on the last night, and everyone was encouraged, even pressured, to take a date.

A foreign friend attended one such camp at age 14 or 15. On the first or second night of camp, a gangly boy gathered the guts to ask her to go with him to the romantic supper. She thought no one else would ask her. (You know, she was only foreign and beautiful—of course no one would ask her!) So she settled for the stranger, the first boy that asked.

Of course, the next days, she was invited by other guys but she kept her word to the first boy who asked. I was glad she kept her word, but her situation always remained in my mind as an example of The Settle. The I-don't-think-I-can-do-better. The mediocre. As my college classmate would put it years later, the good enough.

Years later, a man across from me described his relative. His voice sounded heavy and tired. "He's living with someone he met online....they're not married...she's hugely overweight, and lazy... I wish he had done better." He longed for something superior; I grieved with him at what had been lost. But soon they were buying a house together. Then there was a sparkling ring in the picture, and I realized: they've settled. Yes, they could have done better, had better. But they chose not to.

I know I'm not the only one who began life full of dreams. Aspirations. Ideals. When is it that we settle? Settling feels old. Uninspired. Lifeless. Yet I see it so often.

My friend and I compared stories of how, in our teenage years, speakers would always exhort us to make public commitments.

"Stand up to indicate that you won't have sex until marriage."
"Raise your hand if you want to live your whole life for Him."
"Come down to the front to show that you commit your life to help the globe."

A few times, I did raise the hand or go to the front. But we both felt like rebels when most times we sat, hands down; when we didn't run to the altar with the people around us. It wasn't that we wanted to have sex before marriage or wanted to live selfishly. But we did business with God in our rooms, in our hearts, under the Spirit's conviction. Not under bright lights and the crackling of a famous man's microphone.

There's nothing improper about challenging people to make public commitments on important issues. But we all know what happens to many of those "commitments" when, with a buzz, the lights flip on, the background music starts playing, and people brush off their dusty knees to head home. The emotions that drove promises to be made are the same emotions that cause uncertainty later, and eventually, settling.

Perhaps this is because our Chr!stian culture has become one of conferences, events, gatherings, and altar calls....and our relationship with Him is fed only by those things. One-time events. Monthly gatherings. Weekly small group. And there's a disconnect in the hours and minutes and seconds in between, where life settles. To the point that the majority of our moments are not spent in step with Him.

From my understanding of sin, it usually starts small and grows. If we're daily talking to Him, daily hearing Him, He's pointing out areas of sin. He's offering us grace. He's not so much asking for big promises and commitments on our part. He's asking for a daily relationship with Him, the Only One big enough to keep promises and to strengthen us to live aright.

We were taught to make Him promises.
Now I just want His promises, not mine.

I met a businessman with the stocky body of a marathoner. His eyes brightened easily and his laughter never seemed too far away. His manner was welcoming, even upon first meeting.

Pushing spicy sauces around on his plate, he told us his life story, at our request. It's an unlikely tale, of soccer-playing priests who bore him the first witness of compassion in the name of Chr!st. He lived abroad in various cities, where in every city he found friends and neighbours who peddled truth to him. And so, through various means, the Father pursued him until one day he was no longer his own. He was bought with a price: he finally understood that.

We listened to him talk humbly of charitable activies that he's involved in, sponsoring girl children's education or giving a job to someone in need. Compassionate stories. Humanitarian stories. Nice stories. Then my friend spoke to him of "burning heart" moments, Emmaus road moments, where truth is understood for the first time. "Have you seen this? When? Where?" We leaned forward. Waited for stories. For his eyes to light up, for his mind to turn itself to the stories for which we were hungriest.

But that was where the stories quelled. There was a story here and there, a small incident, a bit of conversation. After ten, fifteen years, that was all he had to offer. "People-in-this-culture-are-like-this" stories. "Everything-takes-a-long-time" stories. In my mind, they seemed like settled stories. In his eyes were the last coals of the evening, the slow glow, but no sparks, no roar. That night, I made loops around our complex, gathering my thoughts as to what bothered me about that conversation.

Call me idealistic, but I want to go out with a roar, with truth burning in my bones. I want to keep believing what I was told—that if we sow the word, a harvest will result. I want to keep believing that sowing truth is chief to sowing healthcare or tuition for girl children (though often the two go hand-in-hand). But where does that fire come from, and how does it stay alive?

In one of my favourite songs, Sara Groves writes,
Jeremiah, tell me about the fire
That burns up in your bones
I want to know
I want to know more now...

I was looking to myself
And I forgot the power of God

I was standing with a sparkler in my hand
While I stood so proud and profound
You went and burned the whole place down
Now that’s a fire...

We were taught to make Him promises:

"I'll save sex for marriage, God!"
"I'll commit my life to you, God!"
"I'll cross an ocean for you, God!" 

"...You just watch!"
"...You just watch what I will do for you!"

Perhaps our intentions and the intentions of our leaders and guides were sincere. But when we fueled these noble efforts with our flesh, we settled for much less. We forgot the source of the true Fire.

Now I just want His blood, not mine. His Work, not mine. His promises, not mine.

So be it.

"It is no longer I who live, but Chr!st who lives in me. 
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, 
who loved me and gave himself for me." 

"Our Lord makes a disciple His own possession, He becomes responsible for him...the spirit that comes in is not that of doing anything for J'sus, but of being a perfect delight to Him.... I am His, and He is carrying out His enterprises through me. Be entirely His."
—Oswald Chambers

"For it is God who works in you,
both to will and to work for his good pleasure." 


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