“When your eating, drinking, working, playing, speaking, or writing is no longer for the glory of God, you should stop it immediately, because when you no longer live for the glory of God, you begin to live for your own glory. Then you separate yourself from God and do yourself harm. Your main question should always be whether something is lived with or without God.”
Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
I’ve been anything but centered on God these days. My schedule has been so hectic that at any one moment I don’t know exactly what I’m centered on other than making it through that particular moment! But, I had to write an article for this issue about keeping God at the center of our lives. Imagine my shock when I realized that God was no longer at the center of my life … even though in seminary I talked and thought and learned about God every day! No longer did I act for the glory of God … but for the glory of myself … for a grade, for an accomplishment, for a moment to myself. Nouwen’s words stopped me cold. I’ve been having trouble lately writing anything for Whosoever. Life has become too busy with other things … papers for school, a new relationship, new pressures at work. Writing? Please … who has time?
My life had become about “getting things done” … and not doing things “for the glory of God.” God was no longer the center of my life … instead the center of my life was a “to do” list. What do I have to do today? I’ve got to write a paper for New Testament and Christian history class. I’ve got to get to work on time and spend 8 hours thinking about news events of the day. I’ve really got to work on my new relationship and spend time cultivating that! God? Who’s got time for God? Not me, obviously.
There was a time when I couldn’t get words down on the page fast enough. I was prolific! I was writing devotionals, articles, sermons, editorials … all for the glory of God! Now … I struggle even with this paragraph. Why? Nouwen has the answer … quite clearly. I no longer write for the glory of God. I write out of a sense of duty … out of a need for a grade. I write because I must … not because I seek to glorify anyone but myself. So, I step back … and assess. Can I even give you any worthwhile instructions on how to keep God at the center of your life? If I can’t seem to do it how can I even begin to help you to do it?
I turn this article over to God. I will try to write it for the glory of God and not my own glory. The words you read here are not mine, but God’s because whatever I write is directed at myself as much as it as directed at you. I ask God to give me the words … not only for you … but for myself … so I may continue to glorify God in all that I do and say and speak.
Keeping God the center of our lives in an ongoing process. It cannot be done once and then forgotten. We have to keep choosing God, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. We are simple creatures who get easily distracted by things, people, and events. Our lives are so busy with chores, jobs, relationships, and things. God often takes a backseat to things as mundane as paying the bills. But even while we’re paying bills we ought to be doing that to the glory of God! You have a job that pays the bills … glorify God!
I had a grand plan to write out all these steps you can take to keep God at the center of your life … but I can boil it all down to one phrase … Keep Choosing God. In every situation, no matter how dull, how seemingly unimportant … Keep Choosing God! As Nouwen instructs … eat for God, drink for God, work for God, play for God, speak for God and write for God. We must live every single moment in God’s presence. There is not a moment where we are out of God’s presence, whether we’re taking out the trash or preaching a sermon to a packed church! God is always there for us, with us and in us. Whenever we feel disoriented or we feel like God is distant, it is not God who has moved away from us, but we who have moved away from God! Constantly reorient yourself to God. Constantly seek God’s presence in your life. Constantly put God at the center. Keep Choosing God!
God Keeps Choosing Us
The Good News is, though, that even when we forget to choose God, God continually chooses us. We can live moment to moment without ever thinking about God, but God never forgets us … never forsakes us … even when we have forsaken God over and over again.
The psalmist sings:
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and for evermore.
We are in God’s sight at all times … there is no place where we can be where God is not. If we “ascend to heaven” God is there. If we make our “bed in Sheol,” God is there [Psalm 139].
I spent many years running from God … putting everything else under the sun at the center of my life except God. Jobs, cars, money, houses, relationships. They were all at the center of my life. God? Who cared about God? Not me … God was the furthest thing from my mind. Then, like the prodigal son, I came home. I expected God to punish me for my sins, punish me for my neglect of God’s will for my life … at the very least to admonish me about how wrong I had been. God, like the father in Jesus’ parable, did nothing of the sort. Instead, God ran to meet me … held out his loving arms and embraced me. God threw a big party for me … a feast filled with friends, love, joy and compassion. I felt shame for being away from God for so long, but God took that shame away and filled me with the joy of coming home to a loving parent.
The miracle was that God had never left me … even during those times that I had firmly left God. Now, when I look back over those times away from God, I see God’s fingerprints all over my life. I see the miracle of jobs coming just at the right time, money coming in just as the bills needed to be paid, relationships growing just at the point when they seemed to be torn asunder. God was there! I didn’t keep choosing God in those moments, but God kept choosing me! God was continually guiding my life, urging me to reorient my focus away from the things of the world to the things that are eternal.
Even experiencing the miracle of God’s unconditional love has not alleviated my problem of sometimes not choosing God. Often I still feel confused, tired, burned out and lonely. It is in these moments that I realize I have not been choosing God. Nouwen reminds us:
“Exhaustion, burnout, and depression are not signs that you are doing God’s will. God is gentle and loving. God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God’s love. Once you have allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern who you are being sent to in God’s name.”
I think that’s Nouwen’s wordy way of saying, “Let Go and Let God.” If we truly continue to choose God in all situations we won’t feel burned out or depressed or tired. We’ll always be energized … ready to do God’s will no matter how big the obstacles may seem. I get tired of answering letters from people who constantly seek to condemn me for being a lesbian. I say the same thing over and over again and my words don’t seem to make a dent in the mainstream ignorance about GLBT people and our right to be Christians. It’s tiring and depressing at times. But, God renews me in those moments. Gives me fresh words to say … new insights to share. Does it make a difference? I may never know just how my words eventually impact someone out there, but I know that I’m doing God’s will. No matter what the critics say I have “a deep sense of safety in God’s love.” For I know God’s love is wide and deep and includes all of us — homosexual and homophobe alike.
To keep choosing God we must let go of the things that make us weary, the things that make us tired and depressed. If we are doing God’s will then the “yoke is easy and [the] burden is light” [Matthew 11:30]. If we’re tired and depressed we must stop where we are and check and see if we’re really choosing God in those moments. Is your burden heavy? Then God is not at the center of your life. Is the yoke of everyday living weighing heavily on your shoulders? Then God is not at the center of your life.
The Good News is it’s never too late to choose God, no matter where you are. If the burden of your life is heavy, stop where you are now and turn around … head back home where God waits for you with open arms. Even while you are at a distance, if you are moving toward God then God is moving toward you … running to you with open arms … ready to embrace you and throw you the biggest party you’ve ever seen! Take time now to “be still and know” that God is with you through the big trials of life, and through the most mundane parts of your day. Keep choosing God in every moment … for God continually keeps choosing you.
The founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians”, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.