Wednesday, 21 May 2014

In God's time

When I discerned God wasn't calling me to be a priest and I withdrew from formation at the seminary, I'd established a plan for my life. My top priority was finding a wife. ASAP! Over the course of the next three years I found myself volunteering as a youth minister, travelling around Australia and overseas, then beginning a new job and resuming studies - pretty much everything but dating. My plan had gone out the window.

Have you ever had the experience of things not going to plan? Let me clarify: have you ever had the experience of things not going according to your plans? And I'm not talking just about petty stuff; but things like losing loved ones, missing out on a job opportunity, relationships breaking down, failing subjects at school or uni, getting a serious sporting injury - things that shoot down our dreams.

Most of us can probably name at least one moment in our lives where what we had planned was obviously never going to come to fruition. That moment can be filled with pain, frustration, confusion, and if you're anything like me, you feel like yelling out to God "WHAT THE HECK???"

It might seem childish to blame God when things go wrong but let's be real, sometimes life can feel unjust; and when life begins to go a different direction it can be a painful experience letting go of all the things we had come to expect. Sometimes it feels like the only thing we can do is get angry at God.

I think too often the Christian life is portrayed as the "I found God in my life and I lived happily ever after" story. But God never promised us happy ever after. God never promised an instant fix. Give us this day our daily bread does not mean "spoon feed me graces daily!"

The Christian life is about choice: the choice to know, love and serve God when its easy and when its hard. As hard as it is sometimes, the greatest grace we have in the face of the most challenging and painful circumstances is to keep hoping and trusting in God.

When I left the seminary I though I had life all figured out - and I let everybody know about it too. I thought I knew exactly what God was calling me to do. My experience over the last three years was exactly the opposite: I had no idea where I was going or where God was calling me. At times it was painful, because it felt like I didn't know God anymore.

Is it ok to struggle with faith? Absolutely! Even Jesus struggled: he had times of confusion, times of struggle, times of frustration, times of anger and even agonised with the Father before he faced his Passion. Jesus showed us that faith isn't about some soft and fluffy, feel good fairy tale. He showed us that faith is about the real and difficult struggle to hope in God in all situations.

As I once told my younger brother: my faith doesn't magically transform my life into a fairy tale, but it does give me something I can lean on and hope in when things get tough, confusing or challenging. And really, that's what vocation is about. We can get so caught up on "priesthood" or "marriage" or "religious life" or even "occupation/career" and how we're meant to figure that out.

But ultimately what vocation is about is relationship with God. And I mean a real relationship, not this "I heart Jesus" rubbish, but a relationship where we're honest with ourself and God; that relationship is all that matters. Plans, careers, states of life - they can all go out the window; because an authentic relationship with God brings meaning even to the most challenging of situations.

"Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you: therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice: blessed are all those who wait for him." (Isaiah 30:18)

Thursday, 1 May 2014


When I was in high school I was the hip-hopping, basketballing, wanna-be gangsta rapper. I was passionate about being true to that image. You could say in high school, I was fresh:

I didn't look exactly like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but I did wear the baggy clothes, listen to hip hop music and walk around constantly dribbling a basketball. Fast forward seven years to now and my image is drastically different. My clothing has changed, my music tastes have sophisticated and I only occasionally walk around with a basketball - I'm having an identity crisis!

Ok, so maybe I'm over dramatising a little bit, but it's a question I've been reflecting on: what does it mean to be authentic? Authenticity is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but I don't think we really understand what it means. Is authenticity about staying true to who you are and ignoring what other people suggest? Is it about sticking to your guns? While "being true to yourself" and "sticking to your guns" are nice sentiments, I think these are narrow definitions of authenticity. 

I think authenticity is actually about being true to the journey God calls us to.

Along my faith journey I encountered God in others; and it made me question: what do people encounter in me? In high school I think people encountered a hip-hopping, basketballing, wanna-be gangsta rapper, who had no interest in the way other people did things. I don't think my school friends encountered God in me. I was authentic to my personality, but not authentic to my faith - which I value more than any of my likes or interests.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that we all have personalities, we all have quirks, we all have labels which we use to define our identity. These things aren't necessarily bad; but they can be a distraction or a barrier to people encountering God in you. If authenticity is only about being true to yourself, then that's all people will ever encounter in you.

I've kept this pretty surface level so far, but let's go a bit deeper. If we look at our church and our world and we're brutally honest, then we see there's still a lot of discrimination and prejudice out there, there are factions and cliques, there is a lot of unjustified hurt. We're at a point in history when technology and resources have never been so sophisticated, yet people are still suffering in our world - it's absurd! Are we as Christians responding to God's call? 

If we're going to talk about being "authentic in our faith" or being "authentic Christians", then we need to get real about that. Authenticity needs to translate practically into our daily lives. I think what it comes down to is we all need to act on the question: how am I being God in my school/workplace/family/wherever?

When we reflect on that question honestly then we might have to make some changes in ourselves. That doesn't mean we're not being authentic to ourselves. But it does mean we begin to live more for others; and I think that is what authenticity is all about.