For years I’ve told people that 90% of the Christian life is just “showing up”, and it’s true. We often think that the power to change the world with ideas and intentions is ours; we assume full responsibility for transforming ourselves and others. On good days, we humbly swat away praise (we secretly know is ours) for a harsh world now gentler because of our interaction with it - on bad ones, we lie crushed under the guilt of our impotence to fix it. Either way, the burden of change presses hard on us.
The truth is, I don’t know how to change someone’s life. I don’t have a five-year sustainable plan for changing the world. I barely have a grasp on how to change myself. This burden of change is one I cannot even slip my fingers under or my soul around. But, I do know how to show up.
I know how to show up with soup for a family undergoing a crisis. I know how to show up with arms empty and available for hugging or carrying boxes, with hands for cooking or washing dishes, the same hands that hold other hands or wipe tears away. I know how to show up with kleenex and banana bread, coffee, tea and me - my ears for listening, my shoulders for leaning on, my heart for loving. I’ve learned to show up in God’s presence with no agenda but to love Him and listen, to read what He says and do it as best I can. I have no doubt that He is the One changing lives, the world - me. I just show up, and He lets me come along for the ride.
Many of us are now recovering from and beginning to put away remnants of the season that celebrates a time when God showed up. Jesus’ good friend John told the Christmas story from a unique perspective:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made... The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-3, 14)
I like John’s version because it reminds me that Jesus is not simply confined to a Christmas manger or an Easter cross. He is the Son of God and He is God, a concept that is mind-bending at least, especially when He adds that He and the Father are one, though somehow the Father remains greater (John 14). Seeing Christ as the Word of God, being clearly spoken from before the beginning of time until this very minute, smoothes out some of those wrinkles.
Words are the embodiment of our thoughts. They are bridges carrying our passions, fears and ideas from the bony prison of our brains to the bony prisons of others. They stand independently but rely on us for their existence - our words are extensions of ourselves, minute manifestations of our minds, communicating the mysteries within us to a world incapable of fully understanding us from the outside.
When God showed up, He came as the physical manifestation of His own mind. For centuries, He had used prophets to play the bridges for His passions and ideas. His Word flowed through lesser lips:
“Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for...”
Then, in a stroke of genius, the Word once spoken leapt off the page, becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The God who spoke comfort became comfort. The God who set the price of our sin became the payment. The tenderness in His tone became arms empty and available for hugging or carrying burdens, hands that held other hands and wiped the tears away. The Word was heard, showing up as ears attuned to cries trapped and echoing within our bony prisons, shoulders of sinew and strength upon which the whole universe could lean. He spoke Himself into a heart beating with red blood cells and plasma and love.
This is the God who has asked me to show up. He still speaks, His words flowing again through lesser lips, now typed out by faltering fingers dependent on spellcheck and the delete button for clarity. He is the Speaker, I am the secretary. He has asked me to write what He speaks to my heart and although I am afraid (of getting it wrong - of getting it right and humbly swatting away praise I secretly think is mine), He reminds me that the responsibility to change the world with ideas and intentions is not mine. It is His. My responsibility is to show up.
So, here I am. And here you are. God said that where two or three of us are gathered in His name, He will join us (Matthew 18:20). This year I am resolved to remain there, in His presence and yours, with no agenda but to listen and to love, to read what He says and do it as best I can, to write what I hear Him speak, no matter how daunting the task. I will leave the burden of change on His strong and sinewy shoulders, for I am powerless to transform anyone. I am capable only of listening for words that I pray will leap off the page transforming us who hear into the embodiment of His mind.
I’ll be here.
I hope you show up, too.