Changing environments has taught me very much about myself that, ironically, I have been aware of for a very long time. My brother has often spoken to me the words, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I have found this to be true in a way than I don’t think I would have before.
Moving to Oregon has long been a desire of mine. The mountains, the rivers, the snow, the cold breath that you can see during the day, the rain, the dark clouds coming and going, and most of all, pine tress, awaken memories of childhood serenity that is hard to enter into in the middle of a bustling city. But in the midst of all the beauty and mystery that is contained in the forests and mountains remains the constant unease of the heart.
I have learned that nature is indifferent to who you are. Nature takes no care of your pain, your joys, your happiness, and not even your delight in it itself. Nature is constant yet disconnected to our experience – constantly affecting it, but disconnected in a painful way from the most important part of our being.
While standing on muddy ground day after day, lifting pieces of wood to construct and feed someone else’s potential idolatry, life is simplified. There is not a thousand demands laid upon me. Simply, wake up, go to work, do your job, go home, relax for a few hours, go to bed, and continue the course. Just as nature perpetuates in spite of life’s circumstances, in a strange way so does even life itself. I awake each day to the similarity of yesterday. The monotony kills thousands every year, people spend their lives trying to escape it. Yet God has blessed me with this monotony. It is not outside of the monotony that life is found, but within it. Trying to escape the monotony of life is really an attempt to escape life itself.
And while all of life is continuing on around me, I am left with myself, the same fears, the same sins, the same darknesses.
This is where life and soul have begun to intersect.
Staring at mountains and forests covered in snow certainly does something for the soul, but I am still the person I was before. I carry myself into each new situation, into every place, and every environment. This change of environment has brought this out magnificently to my mind.
What all this tells me is that it really is not the world around me that is broken and in need of repair. It is myself who is broken and in need of repair. Like vagabonds who wander through life, dragging their baggage with them everywhere, so am I.
How do I overcome myself? How do I face this person? How is it that I keep repeating the same erroneous thinking, self-doubt, and keep perpetuating the same fears that I have faced for years? How do I step outside of myself for but a moment, to look and finally see all of these things?
In the midst of brokenness, doubt, fear, and sin, God has not left me alone, to wallow in my own self-loathing, self-pity, and self-satisfaction. Those fears and sins that I thought were induced by the environments I lived in are more a result of the condition of my heart than the places and situations I lived and breathed. God has shown me in a clearer way what those fears are, why those same plaguing sins are repeated, and in a elementary fashion, the source and help for these fears and sins.
Grace has confronted me in a way like never before. But what is astounding about grace is that it has not changed me overnight. My life has been one of seeking to be changed in a moment, to wake up one day and finally overcome those fears, those sins, those self-doubts that have plagued me all life long. I have thought that one day I would wake up and be strong, bold, courageous, filled with love, patience and thankfulness. I have woke up each day and found quite the opposite – weakness, timidity, cowardice, malice, short-temperedness and ungratefulness.
I have sought for those moments to delight in when I was all the good things and refused the evil. But grace has taught me that before I may conquer, I must be weak, I must see my weakness, I must admit my weakness, most of all to God and to myself. Sin longs to hide behind a thousand pretenses, convincing you that it is not really as bad as it feels, convincing you that you are much better than you really are.
But grace has taught me that I am far worse than I really think. Yet more than this, grace has taught me that in the midst of all my evil, sin and failure, there is hope. Grace is stronger than my failure.
My hope is not to wake up tomorrow and to finally be strong, to finally have all my fears eradicated, all my sinful inclinations overcome, all my failures conquered. The truth is that this is not reality. Reality is that I will continue to be weak. I will continue to fail and I will continue to sin, in spite of my best efforts against it. This is why I so desperately need grace.
My hope is in grace. Grace that speaks into my heart and says my insufficiency has been filled. Grace that says my sins have truly been covered and forgotten. Grace that says my failures have been overcome. Grace that says my fears have been conquered. That is the hope that each day I can stand on.
Encountering God’s grace each day does not mean going to new places, it does not mean changing life plans. Encountering God’s grace means struggling with yourself, wrestling with yourself, facing your fears and sins because they have already been defeated. Encountering God’s grace means not quitting because you have failed again. I encounter God’s grace precisely because I have failed again.
Though mountains have failed to be the peace that I have longed for, they have shown me that disinterestedness is sometimes the best medicine, because when you are faced with something so massively disinterested it does not provide the comfort you long for. So you turn back to your heart. And when you look at yourself and see only ugly things that you have longed to turn from and look back out at nature again and see she does not care for your pain, you are forced to seek further. Looking beyond self and nature, there, God – holy, constant, and interested – lies. God brings himself near into the center of my pain, the center of my sin, the center of my fears, offering me grace.
God’s grace demonstrates that he has made me a new person, no matter how little I feel it. God’s grace demonstrates that he has made me approved and accepted, no matter how little I feel it. God’s grace demonstrates that the very sins that I have so longed to overcome have been overcome already.
But God’s grace goes further. God’s grace demonstrates that, in the person of his Son, he stands in me, with me, and for me. Most truly, I am in Christ and Christ is in me, and this is my hope, this is my peace, this is my comfort. Everything of my life that has told me that I am not good enough, that I am not strong enough, that I am not worth it, that I am a terrible sinner, that I am full of evil, is completely and utterly shattered by this one fact.
Though I have failed, I can struggle through grace. God has made a declaration that cannot be undone, and in this, and this alone is my strength.