Anyone who knows me very well can tell you I’m pretty intense about things. When I start on a new book project, sometimes I will write six to ten hours a day until I’m done, my hands give out or my family claws and wails outside my office door. So of course, when I decided I was going to start My Jesus Project, in which I’m spending a year trying my best to understand what it means to follow Jesus more deeply, I went in a thousand percent.
And then I messed up. Then I felt like I let myself down. Then I felt crappy about it and wondered what the hell I was doing.
“The thing is,” said one of my mentors, jumping in preemptively to offer me much needed wisdom (but well before her allotted month), “you’re westernizing an experience that was based originally in mysticism. Basically you’re trying to boil down this enormous, potentially lifelong practice into a handful of to-dos that you can mark off as you go so you can tell if you’re doing it right.”
And your point is…?
I get what she’s saying, but how else am I to keep all of this organized? Sure, Jesus made a regular practice of prayer and study, and he was apparently pretty good at this whole “people thing.” But for me, that’s work, especially on top of a job, a wife, two kids, a mortgage, email flowing in all day and night: you know the drill.
So how is one to create intentional space in which to practice meaningful spiritual disciplines that will help me better understand the mind and heart of Jesus? With lists, of course! Otherwise, I’ll forget something (like when I forgot my ID at the airport, or even what airline I was taking), fall out of a rhythm, let it all unravel. Honestly, I forget if I’ve changed underwear without checking (no, not like that), so how in the hell am I going to be more Jesus-y without organizing myself?
“For starters, you’re trying to do too much,” said my wife, Amy. She is right sometimes, though I’m hesitant to take advice from a woman who considers it a good week if she puts in less than sixty hours on the job. But she could also guess I’m overdoing something, simply based on my history. So it;s not exactly a shot in the dark.
“All I’m doing is setting time aside each day to pray,” I argued. “And some other stuff.”
“Well,” started fidgeting, because I knew as I went through the list in my head that it was probably dumb, “I’m going through a gospel a month, so I read them three times each throughout the year.”
“Reasonable so far.”
“And then there are the reading assignments each mentor gives me for their month.”
“What kind of reading?” She scowled.
“Oh just a few books.”
“And,” she sighed, “you’re trying to walk 1,000 miles in a year, plus meet weekly with your mentors, prepare for a month of fasting from solid food, raise resources to feed 5,000 people…”
“All right,” I looked at my shoes, “I get it.”
“If that was all,” she said, “that would already be a lot. But you are writing about it too. And podcasting. and, and and…
Hi, I’m Christian, and I’m a workaholic. Guess I don’t really want to be a Jesus Junkie too. Not much to be learned from that.
So for starters, I have to give myself some permission to screw up. Actually, probably a lot. And hey, if Peter can mess up as much as he did and still be the metaphoric cornerstone of the church, I guess I’m in decent company.
Next, I have to remember that lists try to reduce and manage something that defies reduction and management. And it’s the kind of thing I challenge in church all the time – trying to plan and organize our way into a sacred experience – though when it comes to myself, I tend to be conveniently myopic.
Until a mentor calls me on it at least. “Jesus would spit on your list,” said my preemptive advisor, “not so much out of disgust or defiance. More like, maybe he’d make some mud and try to heal you from your list addiction.
“Fine,” I conceded, “but how else will I know if I’m doing it right, if I’m doing enough?”
“Sounds like you’re having a hard time trusting,” she said, “that if you hand yourself over to this, what needs to happen will happen.”
Now she’s just starting to sound like Jesus. And frankly, it’s annoying.
I’m already so far behind on the walking thing that I can’t imagine keeping up, let alone catching up. So maybe I’ll just make more of a point of walking – and slowing down in other ways – whenever I can. And I may not read four new books each month this year, but whatever I do read is more than I had in my head before I started.
And who knows? Maybe this little exercise in setting down my lists is part of the whole thing. Maybe it’s helping me live more fully into the moment, with the kind of faith a kid has in their parents that, even if they have no idea what’s coming next, it will all be okay, one way or another.
Mental note: make a list of ways I can work on being more present.
Just kidding. Well, kinda.