Being a Buzzkill, Or Run That Race Just a Bit Slower

In the Christian blogosphere, people tend to blog mini Bible studies or explain concepts as if it were a class. I have no problem with that, it’s just not what I do here. Especially lately and with this post – as by putting this out there I’m making myself vulnerable to be picked apart and denounced. But I do it so I can hear from you, as what I’m posting is pretty experimental and I don’t claim to have all the answers.

When my wife and I were dating she worked out of town every other week for 8 days straight. We had limited cell phone contact (once a day for 5 minutes or so) and we were very much so in love, so I wrote her six page letters twice those weeks. Pure sap. Just oozing with it. And she ate ’em up.

We haven’t been married long, but long enough that we aren’t in that honeymoon phase anymore. I tend to only write letters now when I hurt her. We of course love each other, but it’s not so urgent and in your face. We’re used to each other.

When it comes to Christianity, we spend a lot of time trying to keep people in that honeymoon phase with Jesus. I’d go as far as suggesting this is partially behind Sunday morning sermons, gobs of Christian books and weekend retreats or conferences. We want people to re-acquire that burning fire they once had with Jesus.

There’s a great line in song by Earthsuit “youth camp junkies don’t get enough to make the buzz last.” We try to get people high on Jesus and to be honeymooners again.

This may sound like total heresyย  – but what if this is a misguided goal?

“What?! I’m not supposed to be crazy in love with Jesus all the time? Shouldn’t I just be mad with him all the time?”

(I’m already envisioning my comments, and they’re not good. I haven’t heard the term sacreligious in a while.)

I’m wondering if maybe our love for him is to be more like love for a husband or wife – where it’s okay to not be burning with heated passion all the time, but we have a love that is more permeated through the whole heart.

You often hear of Christians reflecting on their early, zealous years. Most even out and settle down some, running the race at a more sustained pace. And, I think, that’s okay.

I work in a field where burn out is high – it’s unrealistic that I’ll still be a counselor in 20 years.ย  One of the main reasons cited is simply going too hard. Lots of people enter the field wide-eyed and ready to change the world. Those “types” are of the first to be bitter and to leave.

So maybe we need to stop expecting Christians to be running around on fire all the time, and maybe we need to not perpetuate this idea so some people can be honest. Many may be afraid to admit they’ve lost that red hot drive and fear admitting as it could imply losing God and his (salvation) blessing too.

Give it to me straight. Though Jesus refers to us as his bride, is this where the parallels to marriage don’t apply?

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26 Responses to Being a Buzzkill, Or Run That Race Just a Bit Slower

  1. Not only DO THEY APPLY…they apply to me. Dude, I am in deep horse doodoo if I am expected to have a burning hot love for Jesus all the time. I am finally coming out of a lull that has lasted a lot longer than any has before (that i can remember). Several months in fact. And yes, I have had lulls in my marriage before as well. (We hit 38 this June). But maybe those lulls are good since they help rekindle the fire-both in marriage and in my relationship to Jesus. I am not saying I don’t love my wife/Jesus. I am saying that not always is it burning hot. I don’t think you speak heresy at all. If you are, then we can get each others’ back.

    • Thanks Bill, truly. When I got married my grandma told me “Charlie you won’t always have these feelings for your wife. You may have a year when you wonder if you even love her.” I was freaked out. I knew I wouldn’t always be consumed in passion but I was scared to know what a year of “not feeling it” would do to my heart. I had a point to all that but it’s escaped me – anyway it sounds like lulls are normal, and maybe not even a sign of unhealth – which is a major concern.

  2. I have no idea what the other commenters are saying; I’m going to write this before I read them. Maybe I’m the first commenter, but that would be unusual…

    “20% of the people do 80% of the work” is a commonly quoted statistic. It’s a proverb, really, not a fact, but it’s what we basically believe to be true. “Imagine how much we could accomplish if the other 80% started working as hard as the 20%.”

    The only problem is that the 20% is a rolling group. In other words, the guy who was busting his patootie last week is now completely burned out and is a very dead part of the 80%. So somebody has to be recruiting for the next 20% all of the time, or the whole thing dies.

    I agree with you totally, although I’m presuming your answer, because you’ve basically just asked a question ๐Ÿ™‚

    “We” spend a LOT of time in Christian circles trying to do the things that we CLAIM the Holy Spirit does. Getting people excited. Getting people to submit to “God’s will in their lives”. Guilt tripping people into doing things for the poor. Tricking people into coming to evangelistic events by having loud rock music or free food or powerlifting teams and then scaring them with the message of hell. Telling Christians that their life will suck if they don’t read the Bible and pray for thirty minutes every morning. Preaching that our finances will fall apart if we don’t give 10% of our gross pay to God within thirty minutes of payday. (Not really, but you get the point…) Blaming Christians for the fact that people die and go to hell every day.

    In other words, we really don’t believe for a minute that the Holy Spirit really works in the heart of EVERY believer. We think church leaders, pastors, teachers, etc., have a special connection and that God speaks directly to them but only indirectly to the rest of us.

    And you thought YOU were sacrilegious. I know, I’m pushing it.

    I do believe teachers, preachers, and leaders have a special call and a special anointing upon them. Yet I really feel that all too many times they confuse their own desires, wishes, and dreams to be a more clear “will of God” than it really is. And they (we) forget that every believer is a priest. Every believer is a missionary. Every believer has the Holy Spirit indwelling them just as fully as any other believer.

    The whole idea of “being on fire for God” is fraught with manipulative reasoning. To qualify for this distinctive compliment, one must have an exceptional ability to resist temptation. One must not have any ongoing battles with sin, and one must have the ability to approach total strangers and engage in argumentative debates regarding the afterlife and how much God hates homosexuality. One should always be ten minutes early to Sunday School and one’s children should never go to the restroom during preaching hour nor cuss at the preacher’s daughter. One should never listen to AC/DC or Metallica, and one should never have consumed any alcoholic beverage at all. Because if one violates these rules, the title of “on fire for God” will be revoked.

    Marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment, and the vows usually say things like “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse.” I’ve never heard a marriage vow include “I will always be on fire for you”.

    I believe that the parallel of marriage between Christ and His church is pretty accurate. I don’t really interpret this, though, as a marriage between Christ and the individual Christian. Does that make sense? Christ loves THE CHURCH as His bride. The relationship tends to have some ups and downs, just like real ones, because the church isn’t perfect, even though Christ is. The church will be the spotless bride, dressed in white, because Christ gave himself as a sacrifice for it, not because the church was always on fire for him. As individuals, we miss that mark all the time, and it really shouldn’t even be our goal.

    My point, largely, is that most of the time we credit a person with being on fire for God based on the things they DO, with absolutely no real knowledge of whether they really love God, or not. We focus all too often on the outward appearance and never give the person any information or encouragement to look at their own heart.

    I’ve had times in my life where I really felt “on fire for God”. Yet, now, looking back, I see that I was basically in pursuit of making myself feel good, of proving to myself and to others that I was the real deal, of making a good Christian impression, a LOT more than I was actually having a real relationship with God.

    So, I don’t trust the “on fire for God” moniker. I’ve never seen a case of it “sticking”. It often seems that the brightest flames are the ones who fade the soonest. The lifelong Christians who dig deep will have highs and lows, and they stick with God through it all, even when it’s not emotionally rewarding.

    We need to strive for committed, long term relationship Christians, rather than fired up short termers. Sometimes those long term folks don’t look as “great” as the explosive ones do.

    So, no, I don’t think that the parallel breaks down here at all.

    • WOW! So many thoughts. I will organize them succintly.

      1) I’ve never seen the word patootie spelled out before.
      2) That 80/20 thing is a fantastic point. In a sense we need that 20%, but they are a revolving door because you aren’t meant to live long term with the 20%. Double edged sword?
      3) I am tracking with you – I think we try to induce the same sorts of buzz the Holy Spirit gives. How ridiculous is that?! There is just so much wrong with this.
      4) Oh the term “on fire.” It can be true, but it is most typically used to describe the people who, likely, are just throwing up the most fronting – as if they are not struggling with sin and are spotless in all ways and have this insatiable thirst for God. It’s unrealistic, and I’d even say encourages lying & deceiving.
      5) I think you are on to something – how we focus on what they are doing (which is important) rather than their love for God. Let’s be honest – as with no. 4 you can throw up some big time fronts to make it look like you are doing well based on all these things you are doing (and our “things” are often petty religious things).
      6) I don’t like painting with a broad brush, but I imagine lots of those super passionate people aren’t doing it for Jesus, probably some other psychological reason. Stay tuned for a post next week I already cooked up on that one.

      Great comments, truly. You made a ton of fantastic points.

  3. David says:

    I don’t agree or disagree. I just know what works for me.

    First, I have had some long periods in the past 35 years where I didn’t really care what God was doing. However; when I came back (He didn’t go anywhere) I could always see what I did to “cool off” the relationship. It is similar with my wife, it doesn’t take long to see what I have done to be anti-relational.

    There are some things that work with God, that don’t apply to marriage. “Being right” seems to go well with God, but not with people – well, if your motives are right. Being first is cool with God, but better to be last with everyone else. Being 100% genuine with God, and remembering that how I talk to Him does not always bless my wife.

    Keeping the fire stoked is an interesting concept. First, most folks that see others on fire for God assume that it is emotion – and if it is – I suppose it’s like the line from Earthsuit. God however; is not about emotions, he is about Spirit. Think Paul and Silas in prison, think Stephen being stoned, think Jesus on the cross – emotionally wretched times, but there the Spirit of God manifest himself through them. Think 120 believers so full of the Spirit that they seemed drunk on the Day of Pentecost.

    Honestly, do we even know what God wants for us? James said when you suffer trial, count it all joy!

    My point, unless we are hearing from God and doing it, we’ve missed the Kingdom altogether! Christian success is doing the will of God, not guessing which scripture we can wrap around our day to make it come out like we want it to. Maybe Americans really do need to sell all they have an give it to the poor. I don’t know. I bet there are a lot of folks in Japan and Libya today that wished there was someone besides themselves or the government to rely on.

    There is lot of talk about how the house churches are growing like wildfire in China – right, and their lives are on the line for so much as being at a meeting where the government shows up. If we had to live like that, we’d stop having theories about God. If we had to actually rely on him to feed us in the wilderness, I bet we’d all have the same theology then.

    • after reading the comments from Bernard, which I think he nailed, it was good to read yours. A sort of balance (that’s like a cuss word to some Christians). I think you are right when you say it was something on your end that caused the distancing of the relationship, or maybe the small flame.

      I also think there is something very true to what you said about the difference between emotion and Spirit. I’ve trying to articulate that here – a while back I referenced how books and music and conferences try to manipulate our emotions – and you’re right – God is about his Spirit in people – not just giving our emotions (and therefore neurotransmitters) some temporary surge.

  4. Su says:

    I used to feel guilty in my teens/early 20s that I didn’t feel for Jesus what I felt for every cute boy who looked my way. Now, fortunately, I’ve realised that I’m not supposed to be lusting after Jesus. Sure wish someone had explained that to me before…

    I think you have a good analogy going here. I don’t think about doing anything, going anywhere, etc, without first considering its impact upon my husband. And so it should be in my walk with Christ.

    And as a marathoner, by golly, if you try to sprint the whole way– you’ll be laying on the ground moaning, surrounded by medical personnel, in short order. Or to put it another way: I keep hearing that it’s possible to get adrenaline burnout– that you can wear your body out if you keep chasing after that high of excitement/energy. The body needs time to rest, and I imagine that the spiritual self is no different. An intense honeymoon with Jesus all the time will just leave you exhausted and no use to anyone.

    • oh man I didn’t even realize I was speaking your language Su! Oh man I should have worked that running metaphor more.

      As a drug and alcohol counselor I can speak semi-intelligently of the adrenaline burn out. All stimulants give you a boost of – you guessed it – energy. Here’s the trick – they don’t give you energy they merely release the energy you already have in your brain. Which means you can run out. It’s replenish-able – but only by sleeping/rest. After a few days on a meth binge, for instance, you will barely get the surge since your body is so depleted – which only increases your desire for it more. So you do more meth.

      Anyway there are all sorts of parallels there.

      • Su says:

        That’s just scary. Good reason not to start drugs (like I was on the fence about that).

        No worries; I can fill in the running metaphors like nobody’s business. I can squish in running metaphors where no running metaphor should logically be. I’m working on cornering the market on running metaphors, should this whole “college student” thing turn out to not be a good long-term career. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. JamesBrett says:

    there’s a lot to be said for sometimes acting out of duty or obligation… and not out of love — or rather, i should say, what we define as love. acting out of duty or obligation is indeed love. the kind of love that acts even when we don’t feel like it. that’s the kind i want people to give me.

    • that is a great point. I’d even say this is a point our culture is losing it’s grasp on – there is less emphasis on duty/obligation – they sound like 1800’s English concepts to us. Great perspective James, I wouldn’t have thought of that on my own.

  6. Amy says:

    I’m still trying to figure out where the minor Christian celebrity appeared.

  7. Hey all as I noted on twitter I just received some devastating news I’ll announce soon – I will try to respond to all of your comments soon. Thanks for understanding…

  8. Carla says:

    Do you remember when you were a teenage and all your relationships were based on some emotional tie? How many of those relationships do you still have now? I have one. It’s because my friend and I committed to be there for each other even when we didn’t feel like it or we wondered what the heck the other was doing with her life. It’s great to initially be on fire for Jesus but we shouldn’t love Him or commit to him based on our emotions. Many churches use peoples emotions to get them up to the altar call, but are they really changing people? I can cry at any good movie or even in my car at an emotional song, but do these things change my life? No. Jesus has changed my life. When I was teen Jesus really got me going and I would dance and sing and raise my hands and then I’d leave the retreat/conference feeling changed and a week later I no longer felt changed(unless we sang some sad songs at youth group). As an adult I actually let Jesus change me, but I had to let go of a lot of emotional attachments. Sometimes letting go of those attachments really sucks and doesn’t make me feel like shouting and singing. Some of the greatest things Christ has done for me have not included any type of fire- it’s actually the ability to listen and hear Him in the quiet, stable moments that have meant the most. If you need to be on fire all the time, to have an emotional reaction to feel close to the Lord, then I would say there isn’t much substance to that relationship. I am still in the honeymoon phase of my marriage, but I don’t scream when my husband enters the room like I did in 3rd grade when NKOTB took the stage (though my husband is WAY hotter). Cause I love my husband with that on fire emotional love and also with a committed logical love that understands who he is and loves that.
    Great post, great discussion. You and whatever is happening (see devastating news) are in my prayers and that you feel Christ’s comfort.
    God Bless,
    Carla

    • Carla,

      Welcome, first of all.

      As I’ve noted in other comments I am stunned by the response to this post. I truly was expecting “you’re not spiritual enough” and the like. And the responses have not only been that, but also each person has added something I hadn’t thought of. Your point about about how God tends to speak in the silence is HUGE. I don’t know how I overlooked that when thinking about all of this.

      Even my mom, who is a very emotional person (1-every person is emotional its more of a matter of awareness and willingness to accept 2- my mom cried during Aladdin – yes the Disney movie – she’s notorious for getting overwhelmed by seemingly small things), acknowledged that churches try to get people in the heat of the emotional moment to make that commitment to Jesus. She said they likely don’t know what they are truly getting into. This is very dangerous territory for Christians – as it is manipulative and I’d even say will likely alienate people as their highs turn into deep lows and their highs become resentments.

  9. Larry Hughes says:

    I really wonder if you sit up all night and come up with these questions. I think the church is His bride.
    One can get burn out if one becomes obsessive in their activity be it what ever. This is where one has to take a break and become refreshed. I was obsessed with racing in my midlife years and it nearly got me killed. So I took a break from it and became more mature about it. The maturity was able to over power the obsession with racing and finally decided Hey Nature photography was much safer. Again I became obsessive and failed to enjoy the wonders of nature. I had to take a break in order to really enjoy nature photography again.

    The same goes for marriages. At first it is katie bar the doors. There will be a hot time in the bedroom tonight. After a while you also get burned out. It is when one realizes the marriage is based more on communication, sharing thoughts ,trust, and deep love for each other rather than physical actions is when the maturity comes into play and the marriage flourishes to a greater height.

    I think the same goes for religion too. At first one wants to be in church 24/7 and stay on a high that is only emotional and new. It is only when one lets God lead the way in His own time frame with out personal demands and instant intimacy does one really develop a lasting and intimate relationship with Him that endures through eternity.

    Does that make sense?

    • it makes so much sense that I’m annoyed you posted it as your thoughts are near identical to the ones I was going to write as this post’s part 2/follow up ๐Ÿ™‚

      I think human beings are wired to take things too far, like your obsession with racing and photography. We struggle with boundaries and balance – we just go full speed ahead (sorry for the racing metaphor) recklessly.

      And what you say about marriage is such a great point. I did some crying in wife’s arms yesterday after finding out I was losing my job – and this is what our relationship is based on – not just emotions flaring up and my heart rate increasing.

      • Larry Hughes says:

        Charlie:

        I am deeply troubled about you loosing your job possibly. However, I always looked at loosing one job as an opportunity to find another one better suited for my temperment.

        Hey I have been there, done that. Some how I always survived and made my way through the crisis emotionally, financially, and spiritually. I am here if you want to talk.

        Larry

      • thanks Larry. I began writing my new cover letter today and it includes something along the lines of turning this loss of a job into an opportunity to invest myself into something new and better. The last few months I’ve been considering a career change, and I think this job closing is my sign that I was onto something there, and that just adds to my uncertainty – especially because now I’m unqualified for a lot of jobs! Thanks for your support Larry.

  10. Charlie,

    Okay…where do you get this stuff? This is a brilliant post, Charlie.

    As a son, I do not look at being all lovey-dovey ALL THE TIME with Jesus, although He is very much real and very much in my life as King and Savior. This is relationship; this is reality.

    You were very brave for speaking with such candor, Charlie. I almost hate to say this publicly, but I am beginning to respect you, you long-haired wanna-be hippie freak. Almost. ๐Ÿ™‚

    You is a good man, Charlie my Internet friend. See ya again, I’m sure.
    Thanks for this post.

    • Haha oh Donald. Isn’t that facial hair of yours (at least in that photo) semi-liberal freakish? Maybe the times have changed.

      Anyway thanks Donald, I do appreciate hearing that, especially from you. I seriously worried about this post. This is a topic I discussed 3 years ago with an older adult Christian, so it’s not new, yet I still expected some sort of backlash. Hyper-religious people would tear this apart.

      It’s so interesting that relationships aren’t at volume 11 all the time – that they are actually healthier fluctuating or staying at a lower volume level.

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  12. Very sorry to hear about your job. I praying for you right now over the internet. With regards to your post, I think the key thing you talk about is honesty. We are afraid to be honest. Church is probably one of the least honest places in our society. We build up expectations that we feel we must live up to. We are tough critics of one another. I am convinced more that God wants honesty, just like your wife wants honesty. I love the one prayer a man offered up to Jesus. “I believe, help my unbelief.”

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