The freshness of a new year brings with it the temptation to make everything else new, too. The world seems full of hope and promise again, even just for a few days or weeks.
We seek the new, shiny, somewhat unattainable goals.
We all know the cliches, we’ve all succeeded and failed on various levels.
As I have deconstructed my faith over the last few years, I’ve tried on many labels: Progressive, Liberal, New Charismatic, Universalist, Contemplative, Agnostic Theist… Trying on these identities was a necessary part of my faith evolution. If I could just find the right group to identify with, I would have a clear point in the distance to head toward. I was forgetting about the terrain close in, the path right in front of me. There was still land to be traversed.
I came to realise that none of these labels defined who I was… they didn’t, and couldn’t encompass me, exactly. None of them fit just right.
Frustrated, and feeling spiritually homeless, I gave up trying to define my ever-shifting faith. I abandoned that point on the horizon and shifted my gaze inward. It was in that moment I realised I didn’t have to define anything – I felt anchored to something greater, deep within, and that was enough.
No outer costume was going to affect or change the internal workings of my Spirit. Just like we can begin in the blank slate of the New Year and say we are now Vegetarian, or that we are giving up smoking or drinking or social media…
Unless we take a step inside and follow through with the outer identity we are putting on, nothing happens.
But I want to suggest that those changes are more effective when they come from a True, Inner Place, the place where God sits, woven into us at the very core.
Often the thing we know we should do or feel is the right way forward is the painful step, the one we gloss over in hopes of bypassing the hard work. It’s the long process; it’s the many small decisions rather than one big one.
That is how I feel it is with faith – we experience many tiny conversions. We take a step, and we find God there on the path with us. We start, and God whispers I’ve been waiting for this!
The labels don’t matter any more. Some days I’m still Pentecostal, other days I am seated comfortably with the Universalists. I don’t need a checklist of what makes ‘a Good Christian’; I am free to follow the path at my feet, and listen to that Deep, Quiet Voice residing within.
My encouragement for you is to trust the voice of God within, start there, start close. If labels and external identities are causing you grief or anxiety, let them go.
This poem by David Whyte titled Start Close In captures this sentiment for me. Here are the first two stanzas, you can read the rest here.
Start close in,
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
way to begin
What is that first step for you?
What is close in, nearest to the truest you?
How can you take that step today?