One of my writing groups is focusing this month on revising an old piece to make it sharper and clearer and more cohesive – the best writing they are capable of. I picked a post from 2015. As I worked on it, I thought that this foundational understanding of spiritual formation would be a good post for the new year. Here is the revised standard version of that post.
I knew something was different when I calmly thought, “Guess I’ll have to go to the gas station after all.”
I had taken on the task of vacuuming my car because for weeks my husband had ignored my hints and eventual nagging to do “his” job. One Saturday it became obvious that if the job were to be done, I would have to do it. I began looking for quarters to take to the gas station. Then it dawned on me that we had recently acquired an old hand vac from my mother. The first task was finding it. Then I grabbed it, went outside, and got to work.
I was happily vacuuming the back seat when the bag flew off the vacuum. The dirt and dust I had just vacuumed blew all over me and the newly cleaned car! I looked at the ruined vacuum cleaner and “Guess I’ll have to go to the gas station after all.”
On the way home from the gas station, it occurred to me that several of my usual behaviors had not taken place that morning. I had not nagged my husband nor complained about doing “his” job. When the vac fell apart, no “blue” language (learned by osmosis from my years of tutoring in the county jail) flew from my mouth. I had not thrown the vac across the yard. I had not moaned and complained to my husband about the tragedy of the exploding hand vac. I had not said, “I’m NOT cleaning this car again!” I had merely found a solution and finished the job.
How could this be?! Then it dawned on me. After two years of training to be an apprentice of Jesus, behaving like Jesus was becoming a way of life. The more I see myself as one in whom Christ dwells and delights, the more I am choosing to act like Christ.
CHOOSING TO ACT LIKE JESUS
Sometimes I don’t even realize that I am different until I look back – as with the hand vac incident. Other times I need to make a deliberate choice to act differently than I have in the past. In his book The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith calls this choice-making a “space of grace.” He relates the story of an architect who was asked, “Can we build a [church] building that will help us compete with the church down the road?” The architect paused and said, “Give me a second.” He took a deep breath before he said, ‘I needed to think for a minute whether I was going to answer that question from inside or outside of the kingdom of God.”
As apprentices of Jesus, we learn to stop and consider if the word we are about to speak or the action we are about to take comes from inside or outside of the Kingdom. The idea of taking a pause before we speak or act mimics a fact from the natural world of physics. Long ago I learned from Stephen R. Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that in our universe there is an actual space between each stimulus and response. In human relations the space between a stimulus (being insulted) and a response (returning the insult or remaining quiet) is our “greatest power – the freedom to choose.” That space allows us to choose a response based on our emotions or a response based on our values.
Covey says, “As human beings we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values”. . . . [Our behavior can be] “a product of our own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of our conditions, based on feeling.”
Christians can act from our false narratives and/or our cultural conditioning or we can act from our training to live by the example and words of Jesus. Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31: NIV) and “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:15) and “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13; NIV). We are in training to become more like Jesus. If we give ourselves the space of grace, we can act and speak from a Christ-centered place!