Do you remember that part at the beginning of Gladiator where Marcus Aurelius tries to get Maximus to take over the empire after his death? That moment has been with me ever since I first saw the movie as a teenager. It’s beautiful because Maximus responds to an offer of great power and glory by saying, “With all my heart, no.”
I always thought that was a lovely statement about what a heart should be.
Of course, a heart shouldn’t be power or glory-seeking, but I also look at that scene with fresh eyes as an adult, because our General Maximus was far more self-seeking than he seemed to be at first glance… it seemed like he was this dude with a great heart, who was turning away from selfish gain, but I’ve begun to think that he was actually incredibly selfish because he intended to go home and let the empire fall into the hands of a terrible coward and despot.
A long time ago, I wasn’t asked to join Surge Tables, which is this training thing that churches use sometimes to prepare leaders of Bible studies. Part of the reason I wasn’t asked to join was because of my singleness. Part of the reason was probably lack of resources. And, finally, part of the reason was that I wanted to join and said so. Me wanting to join looked to others like I was grasping for position and power. However, in reality, I was really afraid of not filling my week with community, study, and the church because I know what a brain does when it’s not occupied with Jesus. I spent a fair amount of time after the not being asked to join, making sure I hadn’t been grasping for power and that it was all just a misunderstanding, which, while I certainly feel judged and misunderstood for it, it was.
When I think about Surge now, I get wonky in my brain because I sometimes really don’t want to give lead anything in the church ever again. I learned from experience how difficult ministry really can be, and I’m not sure I’d wish that on even the best-equipped and most committed Christians I know. It’s a blessing, under which good men often crumble (as evidenced recently in Mark Driscoll).
Since Surge was the only small group/bible study available at that church at that time, I was disappointed in being excluded because there wasn’t anything else in which I could participate instead. So, I was jolted out of living my life completely in the church, every night of the week, hosting events at my house more than once a week, going to two Bible studies a week, praying with people, getting coffee with them, discipling them, etc… I went from that to realizing that the church didn’t want to train me, saw my voice as obnoxious, would have preferred I focus on finding a man rather than on God, etc… I did a lot of work establishing a solitary relationship with God, enduring without the church, and I discovered that I did okay.
I still wish she’d been inclusive, though. Because her tendency to exclude those who are too liberal, too single, too wicked, too different, too alternative, too whatever, often makes her “an enemy to conversion, rather than its friend” (Matt Chandler – “A Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep”).
Then, I got an email from my pastor encouraging me to participate in Surge. Different church. Different circumstances. Same leadership training program.
It’s been four (ish) years now, since I was painfully disconnected from the church, and although I believe the church can and should be so woven into my life that it hurts when I’m amputated from it… I’m also intimately familiar with the slow and torturous recovery process that comes after being involuntarily removed from a body to which I thought I belonged.
So I know the right answer is yes – of course I want to be a part of Surge. Of course I want to be grafted back in. Of course I want God to use me completely and uninhibitedly.
But I find my heart wanting answer something more along the lines of, “With all my heart, no.” With all my heart – I’d rather stay at home, far-removed from the front lines, comfortably maintaining the relationships that claimed me even when the church judged me unsuitable.
Is there anything in this world that’s harder than trusting the church? Being intentionally vulnerable with her, for her, and in spite of her?
My life recently has looked an awful lot like it did before that whole mess. I’ve been writing and reading the way I did before, believing I might get my book published, for real. I’ve been drinking coffee. I’ve been running and even fitting into my clothes from back when I was five years younger and the smallest of my life. I’ve been taking notes at church – not just on sticky notes that I throw away because they’re meaningless when I go back to them after a week or so… but rather, in the margins of my old NASB, in ink. I’ve been energetic and looking forward to each new day. Work has been a means to an end, rather than most of what I do and who I am. I’m not quite to the point where I can listen as well as I once did, caring more for others than for myself, but I’m getting there. I’m still, “God, please just hit me with a car,” every-once-in-awhile, but not nearly so often or despairingly as I had been.
And I’ve been praying that God would provide some things for me… things like new accountability, new people and their opinions – to challenge my beliefs, etc… things that all seem to be inherently embedded in Surge.
So, how could I say no? How could I even reluctantly say yes? Where’s my Christian Hedonism?
After our first meeting, I walked away un-intimidated by the volume of reading and study required of me, the time I’ll have to commit, or the long, weekly drive I’ll be making in a car that really has no reason to continue running… I find that the most difficult part of this whole thing is the prospect of letting others know me –> making my prayer requests personal, avoiding vagueness in my weekly goals, and saying what I actually think. There are folks to whom I entrust myself because they are closer than family and my friendships with them have withstood the tests of time and trial. These folks, I’ve got to entrust myself to without any assurances. With all my heart, no! No! NO NO NO!
… but yes.