This post is probably not one where I give some advice on how I have conquered the issue at hand. I know as the self-proclaimed protagonist in my own blog, I should be telling you about this topic, post-victory. But that is not where this is written. I’m not reporting live from the triumphant other side of the struggle, but actually while I’m still in the middle of it. Think of this as more of a captain’s log than a post-game interview.
They say true peace is not being at rest when circumstances are calm, but instead when they aren’t. They say courage is not the absence of fear, but the answering the call to do something brave in spite of fear. “They” say a lot. And they aren’t wrong; these platitudes and anecdotes just aren’t really helpful. So yes, true peace happens when things around you aren’t at peace. Cool. But how do I achieve that peace? While we can understand that courage isn’t the absent of fear, how do we deal with the present fear?
I’ve been reading St. Augustine’s, “Confessions” for a class I am taking. I can truly say I have probably never felt a more kindred spirit than I do with Augustine. “Confessions” is essentially an autobiography on his own personal conversion story and explains his very introspective journey to Christ. In Book 8 of “Confessions”, he begins to detail the fierce internal struggle that kept him from completely surrendering to Christ. He described himself as a “house divided against himself” as he navigated all the reasons he could not easily renounce the passions of the world around him. He had listened to other conversions stories and wondered what was he missing that they had found? How did they do the act that he so desperately wanted to be able to do, yet could not – or would not – find the strength to do? Why had grace fallen on them and missed him?
Paul talks about this at length in Romans 7, but 1 Peter 2:11 gets right to point of what Augustine and myself (and everyone else, for that matter) feel in regards to our hearts:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires,which wage war against your soul.
1 Peter 2:11
“Which wage war against your soul”. The New American Standard Bible calls these sinful desires, “fleshly lusts”. Augustine thought that becoming a Christian meant that all his old desires would leave him. But that isn’t true. Becoming a Christian is not about never sinning again, but instead about being reunited with the Father who sent His Son to die for us because of our sin, who then both sent the Holy Spirit to give us the ability to put sin to death. But if we are putting sin to death, that means it must still be alive somehow. And if Peter is urging us to abstain from fleshly lusts, from sinful desires, that must mean the opportunity to give in to these is still present. We are at war. And we must fight.
But, like Augustine, I get discouraged when I see these desires. Instead of looking at them as opportunities to see the work of the Spirit in me to kill these off, I am always so discouraged that there was something to have to kill in the first place. I thought being a Christian meant moving into a different house where things are better, new, and perfect. Instead, Im realizing that living in this life means God is actually preserving me and not the house. For the house is temporary (my flesh). It is wasting away everyday as the inner self is being renewed. And most days I feel that viscerally. I feel like a crumbling house with nothing to offer except “old” sins that are very present that just won’t seem to die.
What does it look like to be at peace with this war? To accept that in this life, we are called to fight, not to sit passively by sipping lemonade waiting to die and meet Jesus? I immediately thought of the storm Jesus calmed. He was asleep in the boat while his disciples were being pounded by a torrential downpour. They frantically wake Jesus up, accusing him of not even caring. Once he calms the storm, he looks at them and ask why their faith is so little.
Is that what is happening to me? Is my discouragement really just lack of faith? God doesn’t promise us that we won’t walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but He does promise that He will be with us in it. Is it ok to be both discouraged that I have to walk through a place that is characterized by both shadow and death and full of faith in the God who holds my hand? Could the disciples have been both frustrated and secure? Does being at peace with the war in our souls mean not being allowed to be frustrated that it is still a war?
I’m not sure. I can give you a whole host of bible verses and biblical platitudes on this topic, but this is actually one I want to see through firsthand. I want to get to the end of the journey (or this part of it, at least) and then report back what I’ve found. People more intelligent than I have written about this; maybe you should check them out. In the meantime, I’m reporting live from the war, in the middle of my sinful passions and my desire to live for Jesus. I’ll share updates as they come.
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