My Light Switch Faith

A Lesson in Surrender

I would be hard pressed to speak separately of the conscience that I have by nature, and the conscience that has arisen through faith, as I have only one life to speak of. Yet I feel as if the experience I am about to describe derives largely from faith, for a simple conscience does not make such demands.

Evangelicalism has inundated me with the rhetoric of surrender and abandon at every moment. One must completely surrender one’s life; one must not hold anything back. At its heart, the concept is sound—a commitment can only be commitment if it is evidenced as such. There is an undertow in the stream through which I wade from source to mouth, and it tells me that I shall never get there unless I am pulled under.

It is not a matter of doing the right thing, but of relinquishing the right to do the wrong thing. What is a good deed, if the doer has not committed to that which brings the doing? What is it to give all that is required of me, if I gain the will only upon knowing what is required? This is a system we apply to strangers to keep from being cheated, but for those we trust, it dissolves. And there’s no sense in believing in God if you can’t trust him.

Throughout my life, I’ve felt two distinct, diametric choices within me. One of them has been to do the right thing, rather than the wrong thing. The other has been to commit, rather than retain the right to abstain.

People have shown great distress over moral dilemmas and gray areas, but I have never been overly riveted by this. I have not always known what is right for others, or even what the right “thing” is—but I have often felt sure of what I ought or ought not to do.

It has often seemed as if the right thing were just one decision away. Nothing complex, nothing requiring thought. The right action itself may require these things, but my commitment does not, and that is what I have valued.

It has seemed that I have often, if not always, reserved the right to observe a situation, calculating the effect of my choice before committing to the action that would follow from the principles I claim to live by. If my sacrifice is small, then certainly I can live as I ought. But what if the reward to me is great? Perhaps I could spare a detour from the path I walk. What if the sacrifice is high and seemingly senseless? I can’t say just yet. Let me see the details. I will always endorse the right thing, though I may decide not to do it this time. So just bear with me. Do as I say, but not as I do.

This might all have little impact on one’s actual behaviour. Perhaps the dilemma lies farther beneath many things I’ve done—perhaps I have not been litmus tested in the ways that would make it clear. But it’s all very real, like a light switch. I just have to reach out and turn it on.

It is not so much about the mistakes I make, or the wrong things I may do, but where they came from. If this light switch is on, I might only pore over my reading material in a slightly different way, lay my fork beside my plate just a little further left, and greet my friend with a new inflection in my voice. Nonetheless, I would know that all my actions were like those of a soldier’s in war—one who accepts that he has already died, yet still fights to live. I would know that my commitment to what I believe is right is unconditional and irreversible. It’s no different from deciding to love someone without ever asking yourself if you’ll stop feeling like it one day.

I don’t know for how much of my life this switch has stayed on, I don’t know if it runs on a timer, spring loaded, turning off periodically and automatically. I know only that each time I reach for it, I hesitate, and I rue the hesitation.

Many matters may be gray; I myself am often black and white.

light_switch2

Advertisements

5 Responses to “My Light Switch Faith”

  1. “There is an undertow in the stream through which I wade from source to mouth, and it tells me that I shall never get there unless I am pulled under.”

    What does this mean?

    In the following paragraph, I’ve put square brackets around words I’d like explanation on.

    ‘[It] is not a matter of doing the right thing, but of reserving the right to do the wrong thing. What is a good deed, if the doer has not committed to [that] which [brings] the doing? What is it to give all that is required of me, if I [gain the will] only upon knowing what is required? It is a system we [apply] to strangers, but for those we trust, it dissolves. And there’s no sense in believing in God if you can’t trust him.”

    And as for “reserving the right,” is this much more simply (and accurately) stated with “free will.” We always have “the right”, so to speak, to do whatever we want. That’s where I get confused, because you say you “gain the will only knowing” but we’ve always had the will, we’ve just not always had the choice between right and wrong.

    “It has seemed that I have often, if not always, reserved the right to observe a situation, calculating the effect of my choice before committing to the action that would follow from the principles I claim to live by.”

    You have no rights – except to be called a son of God. By not acting, by choosing to understand before you act, you are putting your faith in yourself, not in your God. There will be a time that comes when you won’t be able to understand why God says x,y, or z, and that will be a test of your faith – will you follow him? Or lean on your own understanding?

    What do you mean by this?

    “But [it’s] all very real, like a light switch. I just have to reach out and turn it on.”

    “I know only that each time I reach for it, I hesitate, and I rue the hesitation.”

    Now is this like, you decide to die to yourself, and you hesitate to do it…because you realize you’re losing your freedom, or whatever it is you’re leaving behind…? That’s understandable…but what matters is that you eventually make the choice. I suppose you could even look as the hesitation as the wrong choice…but don’t dwell on that… Christ doesn’t. 🙂

    he’s like the prodigal son’s father…he’s just happy you’re there…no matter how long it took you to realize it was where you belonged/could eat something other than slop.

  2. I can think of few ways of paraphrasing the bracketed paragraph, but by “gain the will” I mean “decide to do.”

    Strictly speaking, it is not wrong to understand before you act. I realize you’re painting the scenario of requesting an explanation from God–but to know that God is telling you x, y, z requires something in its own right.

    This is about unconditional commitment; it’s about how my faith can be reduced to a binary decision when all the other systems are in place.

    —————An analogy I didn’t put in the text body—————-

    If you become a firefighter, it is because you are committed to running into burning buildings for the sake of others. If you get through 3 years in the fire department, all the while deciding only to fight the fire once you realize you are not at risk, you may come out looking the same as everyone else–but you are not. Despite this, there may never be an event that separates you from the others.

    What if the others are all like you? You may have already lived through events that would have separated you from them, had you been the person you claimed to be.

    [ And in that respect “eventually” may be a bit late. Life is happening right now ]

  3. Stephanie Says:

    This seems to be a more personal meditation… less answers, more questions. On the whole, it’s not very articulate–your pronouns cause me the most trouble, but Christine has taken the role of editor already (huzzah the English majors!) so I won’t add more to that. Instead, I’ll point out the points that were clearest and connected with me the most:

    “People have shown great distress over moral dilemmas and gray areas, but I have never been overly riveted by this. I have not always known what is right for others, or even what the right “thing” is—but I have often felt sure of what I ought or ought not to do.” Me too. I wonder if more people are like that than we think and they just don’t want to admit it?

    “It’s no different from deciding to love someone without ever asking yourself if you’ll stop feeling like it one day.” Nice analogy. The thought here seems to go along with the saying that it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. Ends don’t justify means. Faith without works is dead. Etc. Or, as my old tutor used to say, “the rabbit trail *is* the point.” You may not know where you’re going, but if you go as you ought, you’ll get there, and it’ll be good.

  4. – As a general rule, I prefer any musings about my grammar to be accompanied by specific corrections.

    – Yes, I vacillate between writing for an audience and writing for myself. I hope to one day perfect a writing technique that conveys ideas to others without being the least bit clear about them. Perhaps it’s unclear why I would want to do this. If so, case in point.

  5. Stephanie Says:

    – Ok, good to know. Most people dislike having their writing picked apart, and since I’m especially bad about (good at?) doing so, I try to refrain from being hypercritical. But, in sooth, your pronouns are the only source of real grammar trouble for me (“this” and “it” meaning what?). Since your paper is full of them, I made a general comment about it instead of specifically fixing each one. The rest of the confusion can be attributed to style and formula, which is not the same thing as grammar and would require a much more complicated and mostly useless critique.

    – I know what you mean. Read the modernist poets if you want to practice – Yeats and Eliot would be terrific models.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: