In a video game that I love to play, my character is equipped with a paraglider. He can stand on the edge of a peak or a cliff, leap off, and the paraglider will catch the wind and send him sailing gracefully down to whatever waits below.
I love this mechanic. It feels like a superpower. So, in the game, I am constantly climbing up mountains and then flinging myself off them, eager to get at whatever treasures or quests might wait in the forests below.
But there’s one little problem: sometimes, I seriously misjudge the height of the jump.
If you jump from too high of a height, the paraglider will give out before you land: halfway through the descent you’ll find yourself in unfortunate freefall before a life-ending collapse on the ground below. Many a time I’ve leapt joyfully from a precipice, certain I can make the leap safely, only to realize with a sinking feeling halfway down that I’m not going to make it. My assessment of the situation and my own abilities, as it turns out, isn’t always accurate.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as I reflect on my spiritual walk.
We Christians are good at asking ourselves questions. Important ones. Questions like Is God the most important thing in my life? and Am I willing to put Christ first? and Do I have enough faith? I also find that I – and perhaps others, though I can’t speak for anyone but myself – am wonderful at answering those questions the “right” way without ever really asking myself if the answer relates to my actual life. “Oh, God is definitely the most important thing in my life,” I say, and what I mean is often something more like, “Oh, I know God definitely ought to be the most important thing in my life.”
The thing is, we often build our self-perception around those erroneous answers. We know God definitely ought to be most important in our lives and we definitely are willing in theory to put Christ first, and we like to think that we have a lot of faith. We know who we ought to be and we know what the right answers are. But in reality, we put off Bible study or prayer to watch TV or talk to our spouses, we panic at the first hint of anything going wrong, and we’re only willing to sacrifice small and insignificant things when God asks us.
We leap off mountains with our paragliders at the ready, certain we’ll land on our feet, only to find that we’re in freefall halfway down. Our assessment of our spiritual condition isn’t always accurate and we usually don’t realize it until we’re forced to confront what we’re lacking.
And I am really feeling that, this new year. Feeling that I thought I had a lot of faith, only to realize I don’t. Feeling that I thought God was the most important thing in my life, only to be honest and realize that He isn’t, at least not all of the time. Feeling that I was absolutely willing to put Christ first, only to realize how little I am sometimes willing to sacrifice.
I’ve always known it, but it’s sinking in especially lately as I look ahead to the year and think about what I really want to work on and where I need to grow. And you’d think I’d be discouraged by all of this, having been a believer for so many decades, but I’m actually delighted.
This is a good thing.
The admission of where your faith ends and where your sacrifices become difficult and where God’s importance is diminished in your life is where growth begins. It’s recognizing that you have all the right answers in theory, but need to start applying them seriously in practice. It’s puzzling out what that looks like and what that means day to day.
I’m looking forward to it, this new year. And I hope, if you’re in the same place as me, that you’re looking forward to it, too. Let’s do some good growing together.