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Archive for the ‘Faith & Life’ Category

Whether it’s a holiday, weekend, or unexpected day-trip, I love going to my family home.  It’s my favorite place of retreat and is filled with my oldest and dearest friends (my family.)  Though this is always true, something calls to me more sweetly in the Fall.  Everything about it becomes more beautiful when the crisper air moves in, and it all starts with the drive.

Though I appreciate the straightforwardness and higher speeds the interstate offers, I gladly relinquish these conveniences to exit onto the rural roads that lead me home.  I tolerate the slower pace and various farm smells for the joy of knowing I’m in the homestretch.  Inevitably, a smile takes over my face as I leave civilization behind.

It’s not long until I make my final descent into the serene valley where a honey-colored cabin filled with warmth and love awaits.  I wave to the farm on the right before I drop down my favorite hill.  There’s something so enchanting about this hill, almost other-worldly.  The narrow road shoots downward through tall, lush trees filled with strength and wisdom that only trees can attain.  They reach out towards the aged pavement and form a canopy.  Some may find the outstretched limbs menacing, but I see them as watchful and protective.  I find solace in being surrounded by them.  After a short, beautiful while, the arboreal covering wanes and it’s back to forest-framed pastures.

Soon enough, I pull into my parents’ driveway off of a dusty dirt road and all at once, everything within me exhales.  I love when it’s especially chilly and my dad has the woodstove fired up.  The smoky smells of oak, birch, and maple fill my nostrils as these retired trees lend themselves to heating the house.  The sounds of the city are but a memory.  Instead, songbirds fill the skies and the perfect Fall breezes ignite an exuberant fanfare of drying leaves as if to welcome me home.  Everything is quieter here.

Walking the steps, I am greeted by a large and wonderfully peculiar amber-colored cat.  His fluff and frame have already begun to thicken to prepare for Winter’s cold.  His bushy, pear-shaped body makes him irresistible as he flops to the porch floor with a loud “thud” in anticipation of some affection.  After kneading his rotund belly like dough for a while, he remembers he’s supposed to be aloof and wanders off.  He’ll find his way back in the wee morning hours, though, to fall asleep on the Power Rangers pillow he’s claimed as his own.

Now, one would think that, upon going inside, my first task would be to hug my parents.  That is my intention, but it’s very difficult when a moppish little pooch runs at me like a blur.  It’s as if his tiny body is too small for the amount of love he feels as he leaps into my arms.  My heart goes to mush just thinking about it.  I couldn’t ask for a better welcome wagon.  With him contently in my arms, I am then free to embrace my parents and settle into the place I love the most.

These are the images that fill my mind as temperatures fall and the world around me turns from green to gold.  It’s incredibly sentimental, I know, but then again…so am I.  Happy Fall everyone.

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The Wonder of Worship

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.

Psalm 62:1 

In recent weeks, I have come to understand this in a beautiful new way.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am one of the fortunate bearers of an anxiety disorder.  As such, I suffer from panic attacks at times, especially when under great stress.  There are outward physical symptoms as well as a raging tempest of emotions and relentless thoughts.  When this happens, all I can do is to remain calm and wait them out.  The way that I do this, most often, is by turning to God in prayer.

Something happened to me a few weeks ago though.  In the midst of a horrible week at work (the kind that makes you want to write “PEACE OUT” on your neon sticky notes which you plan to hurl into your boss’s office in a run-by resignation,) I experienced quite a few of these.  On one particular day, I found myself in the midst of an extra aggressive attack.  The tears broke past the work-appropriate dam, my heart raced, and unyielding thoughts swirled about my mind like an unseen typhoon.  I turned to the Lord and began to pray, over and over, for Him to comfort my mind and still my heart.  Though there was comfort in turning to Him as always, the tears continued to flow and the storm raged on.  Eventually, I fled from my cubicle to the sanctity of the bathroom (the only semi-alone spot in my office) to breathe and cry a bit more freely.

As I hid there, I prayed a different prayer.  I leveled with God, as I often do.  I said something ineloquently to the effect of, “Okay, God.  This is ridiculous and I’m sick of it.  I need a way to find peace while it’s happening.  HELP.”  After somewhat gathering my composure, I returned to my desk and melted into my ergonomic chair.

Just then, God interrupted the chaos to stir something in my heart.  A speck of bravery combined with a greater measure of desperation to cause me to fall into the song drifting through my headphones.  Most workdays, my music is white noise.  However, this particular song opened its arms to me offering a refuge within.  As the revamped hymn took hold, I found myself lifting my heart in pure, honest, and fairly undistracted worship.  All of a sudden, I realized that, though my circumstances remained the same and my mind still full, a wave of peace was descending on me.

Immediately I knew that God was answering my honest prayer.  It was as if I was caught in a literal storm and, in worshiping this way, I found a shelter from the squall.  I pondered further.  My main question was this: “What’s the difference between the time before the restroom prayer and the time after?”  God, as always, has been faithful to answer this over the last weeks and I’m excited to share more about it…next time.

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So, what type of hermit am I?  I am a fearful hermit or rather; I have the natural tendency to be one.  I realized this about myself early into my walk with God as I sorted through deep scars from my past.  I had to admit that, through a series of harmful relationships in my formative years, it was hard to believe God desired me and nearly impossible to think that I was likeable to people.  I had to wage war on the lie that I was merely tolerable, a lie that many people believe.

By God’s grace and incredible love, I was able to break the chains of that binding mindset.  He also blessed me with a few incredible people to really cement this.  Unfortunately, through a semi-recent loving confrontation by a dear friend, I have been forced to realize that this mindset still follows me around and can, when ignored, affect me even now.

To be humbled by the truth that I am still affected by my past to admit present damage.  To admit present damage is to recognize pain.  To recognize pain, quite frankly, sucks.  Now, I’m certain that His power and love are limitless.  I do, however, believe that tendencies we once held can resurge for a variety of reasons (though never because He’s failed us.)  Even knowing that, however, admitting that this lie still stalks me is a bitter pill to swallow.

So, what am I going to do with this renewed awareness?  What can I do to break my eremitic tendencies?  I wish I had some beautifully-written advice drenched in profundity, but I don’t.  Honestly, there are two straight-forward actions that I’ve found effective.  Theoretically, they should work for all aforementioned types of “faith hermits” (though it’s just a theory.)  Here they are:

  1.  Surrender.  Ask God to strengthen your heart and consistently look to Him for your identity.  You can’t be in any sort of healthy relationship if your senses of identity and worth aren’t grounded in Him.  (Psalm 139, Ephesians 1:4-5, 1 John 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:5)
  2. Put yourself out there and let people prove you wrong.  Whether it’s a love of comfort, pride, or fear, we need to give people the option to prove that they are worthy of our trust and that God honors and protects life-giving relationships.  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) Now, not everyone is worthy of our most intimate details nor is it healthy to divulge our life stories to everyone.  This only applies to those who are trustworthy and equally committed to authenticity.

Personally, I find the second action to be the most difficult.  I find strength in the fact that God designed us to be in community and therefore He’s ultimately in control.  He knows we need other people and other people need us.  This truth takes the action from highly difficult to incredibly rewarding, to the point that it gets easier every time I’m transparent.  It’s quite wonderful and even kind of addictive.

Until next time…

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I feel like this post is the equivalent of an awkward coffee date with a friend I’ve fallen out of touch with, through my own fault.  You know the kind.  They’re filled with uncomfortable silences as you both stare into your lattes, stirring them far more than any espresso drink should ever be stirred.  However, if the friendship is strong enough, you will eventually get over this and it can be as if you never parted.  I am hoping that this post leads to that as I am so thankful for each and every one of you, whomever you are.  I look forward to posting much more frequently (please hold me to it) and hearing more from you as well.

Onto the post…

When you hear the word hermit, what do you think of?  I think of curmudgeonly old men living in dilapidated cabins in the hills.  They spend their days chopping wood, milking goats, and wielding rusty rifles meant to ward off anyone who threatens their reclusive lifestyle.  I may have just described a combination of a cartoon hillbilly and the grandfather from Heidi.  Anyway, perhaps you share this image.  Perhaps you thought of crustaceans, agoraphobic cat ladies, or even just some synonyms.  Whatever came to mind, I’d be willing to bet that most of you did not think of a relatively vibrant 25-year-old woman living in a metropolitan area.  It’s true though.  Ladies and gentlemen, I happen to be, in some ways, a hermit.

Fear not, I’m not the type that sleeps with a sawed-off shotgun under my pillow nor am I a curmudgeon…often.  No, I am the more subtle, less “out” version of a hermit.  Specifically, I have a tendency to be a “faith hermit.”  What do I mean?  In general, it describes someone who hides or hoards aspects of his or her relationship with God.  In this newer dose of self-awareness, I have been mulling over the concept for some time and I have come up with the following three types of faith hermits to bring further clarity to the definition:

  • The Comfortable Hermit is the type of person who keeps his or her faith hidden because they know that opening up exposes him or her to the risk of being challenged.  Good challenges demand change and change, most often, is uncomfortable.  So, instead of letting another person or group into the depths of their relationship with God (or lack of) for the chance of life more abundant, they choose to live in perceived comfort and subsequent mediocrity.
  • The Prideful Hermit is the kind who hoards his/her faith because he/she believes that others have nothing to offer.  They may not admit or even be aware of it, but there’s a part of them that believes their faith is as good as good can be and they don’t actually need anyone else.  This could even be extension of the Comfortable Hermit in that pride often exists as a means of avoiding change in an area that, at the core, needs it.  They can mask this pride as contentedness when it’s actually just tolerance of complacency.
  • The Fearful Hermit is the type of person who acts based on fears, insecurities, and/or people-pleasing tendencies.  These hermits withdraw because they fear that true honesty with others, even their closest friends and family, will result in rejection, insurmountable rifts, or even the complete cessation of these relationships.  They often believe that their silence—either by hiding their issues or refusing to acknowledge tension—is the best way of protecting themselves and their loved ones.  In truth, it’s doing more harm than good.

These aren’t research-based at all, just observationally inspired.  I’ve seen many a person’s faith, relationships and life harmed by these patterns, including my own at times.  This is why I’m finding new passion for recognizing the behaviors, dispelling the lies, and moving forward.

So, you may be wondering, what type of hermit am I?  You know I’m going to tell you but, in the spirit of working on my lifelong problem with brevity, I am going to leave you in suspense.  I will also leave you with a question.  When you read these categories, were you able to relate to one?  Do you have any of these tendencies?  Are you acting on them right now?   I invite you to join me in asking these hard questions because these are the types of questions that I know, with all my heart, open us up to the real truth that God so desires us to find.  It’s another step in the “life to the full” that Jesus talks about it John 10:10.

Stay tuned…

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ARE YOU SURE?

What hideous words. To most people, these are just three small, monosyllabic words making up a simple question with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. To those of us who struggle with anxiety, more specifically those of us who have actual anxiety disorders, the words are not so meek. Rather, they come with slings and arrows aimed at an already-sore spot in our psyches.

Yes, I did just admit to having a mental disorder. For some of you, this is simply surprising, neither negatively or positively. Perhaps you’re completely unfazed. Some of you felt a sudden onrush of discomfort due to pure fear or the adoption of the stigma attached to mental illness. Lastly, I pray that some of you felt a surge of relief in hearing the implicit message that tells you that you are not alone.

I heard a pastor once say, in reference to seeking counseling during a difficult period of his life, that “counseling isn’t just for crazy people.” In the same way, mental illness is not exclusive to the clinically insane. The stigma of mental illness is rather ridiculous considering the statistical prevalence of mental illness, but that’s another rant for another time.

As of late, this is what I’ve been obsessing over. There have been several situations over the past few weeks that have made me extra aware of my anxious thought patterns. I am a very self-aware person as it is, but these circumstances have added a new level of understanding by showing me my anxiety in a new light.

Let me just interrupt this for a brief moment to state my intentions for sharing this. First of all, I am sharing it simply for the sake of sharing it. Secondly, I love the field of psychology and its practical applications. Thirdly, I hope that by sharing this that some may find some encouragement—be it ever such a small drop—through my ponderings. That’s it.

Anyway, one recent situation that brought about new understanding occurred at work. Currently, my day job involves detailed data analysis to create more meaningful data for the use of my department. Your eyes just rolled back as your neck simultaneously craned backward in a momentary episode of narcolepsy, right? Understandable. My point is that I spend my daytime hours breaking down numbers (which is hilarious given my extreme lack of mathematical ability.) When presenting a report to my supervisor, he glanced at the figures, and then opened his mouth to ask, “How sure are you of these numbers?” Without hesitation, I answered, “Very,” with confidence. Shortly after, I turned and left his office. As I walked back to my desk, I thought, “That man has no idea what that question just did to me.”

What it did was to start a relentless, swirling cycle of follow-up questions asked by none other than my own tenaciously analytical mind. In a matter of seconds, my brain was filled with unyielding uncertainty, impatient inquiries, meta-thoughts, ambiguous feelings, and overall mental chaos. Here’s a sample of my rapid-fire thoughts for the next several minutes following my manager’s inquiry:

Was I really sure? What if some are wrong? What if ALL of them are wrong? No. You checked them as you typed. Did I? The numbers might be transposed. I could’ve had my hand on the wrong keys. What if I looked at the wrong data in the first place? What if this trickles down to affect the whole department? What if I did the wrong formulas? No, I checked them just like I checked the numbers. Did I? Maybe I mistyped them. No, I typed them all carefully. My data entry skills are incredibly accurate. But what if they’re not this time? What if they’ve never been and I’ve just been really lucky? That’s ridiculous. Is it? Yes, it’s ridiculous. IS IT?

The above is just a sample of the amount/types of thoughts that can occur simultaneously in one minute alone, continuing for any number of minutes, hours, or even days depending on the situation. It can be about something as seemingly small as this or something much larger. Looking back, I know that the numbers were/are right. I knew that the logical side of me fighting to be accepted as true was correct. I didn’t feel that way though. I couldn’t believe it at that moment. That was the nature of the “episode.”

I recently finished the book Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, a fascinating account of the author’s actual 18-month stay in a mental hospital in the late 60s. In one chapter, she describes an inner dialogue between two “interpreters” responsible for perception. “One needs data, the other needs an overview; they influence each other. They get dialogues going.” One observes, the other translates (not that we are limited to two.) She describes mental illness as being an issue of miscommunication between interpreters one and two. An example:

INTERPRETER ONE: There’s a tiger in the corner.
INTERPRETER TWO: No, that’s not a tiger—that’s a bureau.
INTERPRETER ONE: It’s a tiger! It’s a tiger!
INTERPRETER TWO: Don’t be ridiculous. Let’s go look at it.

The person then picks him/herself up and walks over to examine the corner. She states, “If you are not crazy, the second interpreter’s assertion…will be acceptable to the first interpreter. If you are crazy, the first interpreter’s viewpoint…will prevail.” She goes on to further describe it using the scenario of waiting for your train to move out of the station. When the train next to you starts moving, it feels like yours is moving. The first interpreter makes the claim that it is your train, so the second steps in to set the first straight. However, you can find yourself “suspended between two realms of consciousness: the one that knows you aren’t moving and the one that feels you are. You can flit back and forth between these perceptions and experience a sort of mental vertigo.” (137-141) I think this is a brilliant explanation that can be applied to episodes of anxiety. You’re not sure of anything in these moments, even though you know you should be.

My question is this: what if there was a third interpreter with the final say? An anxious mind is one in which certainty seems rare, nearly unreachable, or even impossible in severe cases. Dynamic and unstable thoughts lead you to a lack of constancy in an ever-changing battlefield. But what if there was something that was always true and always true in the same way? What if there was something or someone you could go to that you could rely on to always tell the truth, always be the same in nature, and always be available?

I believe there is. I know there is. The Bible shows that God is immutable, meaning that He is always the same in His nature, character, and will. He never changes and can never be made to change. It is this truth that has caused my own anxiety to be in remission (if possible.) I am able to accept my mental processes and live with anxiety, but not be controlled by it.

Imagine yourself in the midst of an apocalyptic storm. Torrential rains pound down upon you like showers of nails. Tempestuous winds toss you around like tumbleweed in a tornado. Earthquakes throttle the earth violently making stability non-existent. Then, you spot a tree in the middle of it all. A lush, emerald-hued tree stands tall and beautifully, defying the death-seeking threats that swirl around it by remaining perfect in form and structure. Not one leaf is moved though the atmospheric conditions are crumbling mountains into the turbulent sea. Not one piece of bark is even considering relenting to the winds. In holding onto this tree, you too can enjoy that perfect stability. That’s God. No matter what we feel, think, see, or experience, He is the same loving, perfect, beautiful, true, strong, all-powerful, holy, good, gracious, and infinite God. He always has been and always will be.

It may sound odd to say this, but knowing this enables me to see my anxiety as beautiful. I think it has placed me in a unique position to appreciate this truth in powerful ways. I know what it’s like to be unsure about everything so, to know that God is always God, even though my own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions wage war against themselves, is utterly amazing. Even if 90% of me feels totally unstable and only 10% can remember God’s constancy, I am able to hold onto that 10% and find peace, comfort, and joy. Supernaturally, the 10% actually becomes bigger and more powerful than the 90% (and eventually overtakes it.) I realize that’s mathematically impossible, but it’s true. And hey, I mentioned my lack of arithmetical ability.

Well, I know that this was bit longer—even for me—but I truly appreciate any of you who hung on. I hope you enjoyed it as I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. I have a sneaky suspicion that it’s actually just Part I as I feel like I have so much more to say on the matter. Stay tuned.

Works Cited:

Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Turtle Bay Books, A Division of Random House, 1993.

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A mystifying blanket of fog had descended upon the entire metropolitan area that night, coating everything in a dark grey veil.  Like a phantom gliding down from a belfry, it drifted in with unnatural speed and mystery.  To call it dense would be a vast understatement.  Impenetrable would be more appropriate, though still not entirely accurate.

Traffic was non-existent.  Streets were virtually abandoned, not that one could see the form or figure of any living creature amid the earthbound clouds.  Even streetlights, whose sworn duty was to illuminate, could barely utter a whisper of a yellowish glow.  Homes emitted such little light that they appeared more like old pieces in a Holiday Village collection on the cusp of burning out for good.  The typical buzzes of Suburbia were nearly completely silenced.  Only the whir of such things as power lines and air filtration systems seemed audible, though noticeably stifled.  The town was draped in forced peacefulness which was intriguing and eerie all at once.

Somehow, I found myself called to leave the house for the sake of a mission, humble as it was.  A friend was trapped at her office due to the conditions and subsequent lack of visibility.  Luckily, this friend worked within walking distance of my residence, charging me and a walking companion with the task of rescuing her and welcoming her into a more hospitable setting.  I can’t recall why it was our duty; I only know that it was.  So, we set forth with flashlights in hand to retrieve her.

As we reached the top of a hill, exhausted by the weight of the damp air, we stopped to breathe at a four-way intersection.  It was bizarre to see this typically chaotic point of traffic as vacant.  Normally filled with impatient drivers, it was often difficult to cross on foot.  As we resumed our journey, we found ourselves walking with conditioned caution despite the obvious lack of threat.

Proceeding through the crosswalk, I looked to the right and saw a faint figure in the distance.  How peculiar.  It resembled an animal of some sort.  A donkey.  Was this a fog-induced mirage?  No.  There really was a small beast of burden standing calmly across the street.  It seemed to be positioned towards me, as if to specifically attract my attention.  It probably goes without saying, but this was highly atypical.  This was a busy intersection in a highly-populated suburb of a large city.  Donkeys, or any animal categorized as livestock, were not native to the locale.

For whatever reason, as I stared at the creature, the story of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on such an animal came to mind.  So humble, yet worthy of great reverence. A seemingly random thought, I admit, but considerably normal given the nature of the overall situation.  Eyes fixed on what stood before me, I found myself wishing that Jesus was the rider of this particular donkey.  No doubt, this came purely from a deeply-rooted and ever-present desire to see him face to face.  The thought had barely concluded with a mental period when I saw a figure appear on the animal’s back.  My eyes began to widen as the figure came into focus.  It couldn’t be.  It was.  The figure of Jesus Christ, remarkably clear despite the darkening power of the iron-colored mist.

Before taking the time to analyze the situation, my mouth had involuntarily cried his name and my feet, without my consent, began to carry me swiftly towards him.  With tear-filled eyes, I ran.  The mirage thought crossed my mind again, but my heart was too drenched in the hope that it was real to entertain any skepticism which is so often a part of my thought processes.  The risk of looking foolish was insignificant.  It was more worth it to find out that he was there than to worry about what would happen if he wasn’t.  So I ran..

I reached him and my arms thoughtlessly and immediately found their way around his neck.  Heart and eyes flooded with indescribable love, gratitude, humility, and immeasurable joy, I held on tightly with no intention of letting go.  Something tells me that he initiated the embrace, though my speed of reciprocation blurred those lines.  It was a moment of perfection, peace, and incalculable bliss.  I was overwhelmed by the supernatural.  Enveloped by the sacred.

After what seems like hours and seconds at the same time, another set of arms joined the embrace.  My friend was but a step behind me, unable to contain what swelled within her at the sight of the Savior.  This only increased the inexpressible joy of the situation.  The fog was forgotten.  Any negativity that had existed prior to these moments had vanished.  Only love existed.

Not long after this had taken place, I woke up.  Yes, dear friends, this was a dream and a tremendously beautiful one at that.  I have to admit that I was hesitant to write this, risking the loss of the dream’s sacredness in the scrutinizing light of this worldly reality.  It’s like trying to describe the majesty of The Himalayas to someone who’s never been.  Or trying to share the ecstasy felt by the powerful presence of God in a night of worship to an absent friend.  Try as the hearer may, there’s no way to fully share in the narrator’s experience.  Just the same, the human tongue cannot adequately describe my experience through this dream, at least not to the point that anyone could relive it with me.  Despite this, I decided the dream should be shared.  Something so truly lovely should be written, even if it’s just for my sake.

I woke up from this aglow with a deepened love for the Lord.  I was so honored that God elected to reach out to me this way.  He always reaches out to me (and always will,) but this was certainly special.  It’s interesting to think that my roommate had prayed, before going to sleep, that God would speak to me in a dream.  This specific prayer isn’t a ritualistic one for her.  Something (or Someone) inspired her to pray this prayer.  That, in combination with the startling fact that I remember this dream so vividly, seems to allude to something greater.

The jury’s still out on the interpretation, and I patiently await the revelation, but I know it wasn’t just another random combination of the daily debris that enters my subconscious.  I know the fog is heavily symbolic, and I’m fairly confident that the donkey represents Jesus’ humility in pursuing me, but that’s all I’m able to understand for the moment.  I know there’s more to it.  Perhaps, when the full meaning is revealed to me, there will be a Part II to this post.  In the meantime, I pray that it is simply enjoyed as a beautiful story that represents a beautiful truth.  May you find increased excitement, hope, and fervor as you remember that God never ceases to passionately pursue us in increasingly creative ways.  May you always continue to revel in such loveliness.

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A few weeks ago, my roommate and I were discussing books, ambitions, and other lovely topics.  On the topic of writing and written works as a whole, I once again mentioned my love for fiction. I shared my declaration of devotion to the genre with a speech that finds a constant home on my lips.  Several days later, while talking with another friend, the subject of the monomyth and its ever-increasing popularity in modern fiction came under discussion.  This perpetuated my already-constant mulling over why so many of us connect with certain stories.

What is a monomyth, you ask?  Is it the creature that lives in the dryer and feasts on singular socks with the malicious purpose of creating odd ones?  Or isn’t that a town in New Jersey?  Nope.   It’s actually a literary concept, also known as the “Hero’s Journey.”  This concept of story-telling was described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949.  The term monomyth was apparently coined from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.  History lesson concluded.

More practically, the Hero’s Journey is the story of someone seemingly ordinary being called to fulfill an extraordinary task.  It involves a calling to adventure, encounters with the supernatural, a road of trials, atonement, supportive journeyers, and ultimately a return from a successful quest which empowers the hero to live a life transformed.  There are more details to the steps, of course, but I fear it would overtake this post.  However, if you’re geeky like me, and wish to learn more, you can check out these sites:  http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/00212/monomyth.html, http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/hero_journey/hero_journey.htm.

Anyway, the Hero’s Journey is displayed in countless books, movies, and other artistic expressions that we hold dear.  The Lord of the Rings, Matrix, Harry Potter, Spiderman, King Arthur, Odyssey, Star Wars, and Avatar are all examples of this type of story.   The list goes on for days.  I realize that the list I’ve described is composed of fantasy/science fiction, but the Hero’s Journey appears in other genres outside of these, albeit less directly.  In any case, this story structure is apparent in a great deal of popular fiction.  My point?  I think there’s a larger reason why this type of story appeals to people, a reason beyond the obvious.  I think it’s actually a parallel to the reality of life.

Let me lay down a little bit of premise about human nature.  Naturally, we humans label, compartmentalize, minimize, and categorize.  We put things in containers and formulas to make them more comprehensible and manageable.  We do it with everything, including our views and experiences of God.  We read his word with monotonous or matter-of-fact tones.  We predict how he will answer our prayers.  We focus on the attributes we can understand with human terminology the most.  We put the supernatural God in a human-shaped box to make him easier for our earthbound psyches to digest.  I do it all the time.

The real truth, which He’s been revealing to me more and more over the past several years, is that He is wild, magical, mysterious, humanly unpredictable, larger than time itself, infinite, grand, etc.  I find a great deal of symbolism in fictional works that forces my imagination to go outside it’s human parameters to imagine a world where trees send messages, the weak are used to slay the monsters, and love, good and truth know no bounds.  I’m forced to confront the truth that God has the power to create such things and even more beyond my puny perception’s reach.  I think, deep down, people want to believe that such a world and such a God exist.  Now, I’m not saying that parallel realms exist in which enchanted purple dragons cut through the night sky and 400-year-old willow trees have tea and walk about freely.  I have no proof that they don’t, but even my head isn’t quite that far into the clouds.  But I digress.

People are created with the intrinsic knowledge—however deeply buried—that they’re meant for more than that which is visible and tangible.  We all need to find this.  Typical human behavior and tendencies provide proof to the fact that everyone is looking for better and higher experiences all the time.  Some seek it in drug-induced states.  Some in human love and sex.  Some in TV or material possessions (the less socially damned but equally as dangerous mediums.)  They’re all reaches, conscious or unconscious, towards that “something more.”  We all want to be and experience more and were divinely created to feel this insatiable desire which points to God Himself.

Coming back to the Hero’s Journey, I believe it is appealing because it involves all of the things that life is actually supposed to involve.  Each Christian testimony (the story of how a person came to know Christ) is a version of the Hero’s Journey.  He calls and pursues us all our lives.  He intervenes supernaturally.  We join with others on this journey, experience challenges/temptations, and eventually experience death, rebirth, and transformation.  We are then called to live this transformed life for the benefit of the entire world (i.e. The Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20.)

To summarize, we are natural creatures created for experiencing the Supernatural and this literary structure outlines it and speaks to that created mindset.  That’s why people are drawn to it.  The twist, however, in actual reality is that we’re not the heroes at all and there is little personal glory to be found (which I find incredibly freeing.)  God is the protagonist and the supernatural influence.  He is also the author of each of our stories (Hebrews 12:2 and Acts 3:15,) and an incredible one at that.  He writes them as sagas that are constantly building towards the climax.  Yes, undeniably, they are dynamic tales filled with ups and downs, triumphs and trials, joy and pain.  Thus is the Hero’s Journey.  It is, however, never dull and filled with unlimited potential to find joy in abundance.  Even more beautifully, the ultimate ending to these adventures we live, though unseen by the living, is an eternity of perfect bliss with He who holds the quill. (Revelation 21:1-5)

How truly wonderful indeed.

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