As each month passes, I take a retrospective look at the year: a sort of YTD report on life (I attribute this analogy to my job working with data). One bad habit that I’ve identified is attempting to go into hiding whenever I found myself in a painful situation or trial. I call it “ninja mode.” It mainly involves going silent when things get hard. People don’t hear from me; I stop showing up; basically, I become about as quiet and hidden as the cool, sneaky movie ninjas.
But as I realized this this year, I realized I was also hiding from God and the lessons he had laid out before me.
James 1:2 says that we should “count it pure joy” when we face trials and difficulties, because perseverance produces maturity. But I hadn’t persevered; I’d been running from my difficult times. God had to get hold of me and teach me to live through discomfort like Christ if I wanted to find joy.
Earlier this year, I burned a whole highway’s worth of bridges. I had helped create a toxic environment with an ex-girlfriend and my old small group. At the same time, I began losing focus in work and felt abandoned on a difficult project. At first I tried to stay the course, focus on my relationship with Christ, and work toward building up the community I was involved with; but negative emotions, impatience, and spiritual immaturity got the better of me. I let anger and resentment build up. I turned people I once considered friends into villains. I convinced myself that nothing good would ever come of the situation, and then walked away and cut all ties — a full-on slash and burn. No more small group, no more job in Fishers, no more Broad Ripple apartment, no more north side. Ninja mode engaged. I convinced myself I could hide from and escape it all and “start fresh.”
And at first that proved partially true. There were plenty of fresh starts. God brought new opportunities and new people into my life. Suddenly I had a new apartment, new job, new church, and even a new small group. New, new, new!!!
But right in the middle of all of this “new car smell” goodness sat me. Despite how excited and grateful I was for it all, old-car stank came wafting in behind me. My ninja mode started to show its weakness.
See, I hadn’t even acknowledged the lesson God had set before me. I rushed to hide from it all. I tried to pave over anger and resentment. My half-hearted attempts at forgiving others and myself didn’t cut it. Just like a poorly repaved street, cracks started to form and the ugliness beneath it all re-emerged with a few deep potholes. It really crashed in on me when the leader of my old small group reached out to me months after I had gone ninja. I lashed out with vitriolic texts and ended any future dialogue. I wanted to keep my painful experiences cut off.
In the days and weeks that followed that interaction, I wrestled with what it meant to truly show grace and forgive. I prayed for understanding. I prayed for peace and the ability to forgive and love those who had wronged me. And as always, God answered.
One day at work, I followed a music recommendation from a friend (a departure from my usual genre, which sounds like robots fighting) to listen to a Ben Rector album I’d never heard. I hit the shuffle button, and the first track that played was “More Like Love.” One verse in particular, followed by the refrain, struck me:
“I find the farther that I climb
There’s always another line
Of mountain tops
It’s never going to stop
And the more of anything I do
The thing that always ends up true
Is getting what I want
Will never be enough
So I just wanna look more like love
I just wanna look more like love
This whole world is spinning crazy
I can’t quite keep up
It’s the one thing around here
That we don’t have quite enough of
So I just wanna look a little more
The next track that came on was “Like The World Is Going to End;” the combination was like a one-two punch from God. The title of the song tells the story: live like the world is going to end. What would you suddenly find important, and what worthless? One line from the song is, “Callin’ everbody I’d ever hurt and reconciling.” It was an unusual way for God to track down a ninja, but it worked: I fought back tears at my desk when I finished listening to these two songs.
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” My sin was anger, and it was certainly hindering me. Rather than address it and face the truth, I went and hid in the darkness. I couldn’t make sense of claiming to be a follower of Christ while I clung to this darkness. I knew Christ certainly wouldn’t.
And there was that word again, perseverance: “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” Hiding from my pain and problems was easier; but it wasn’t persevering, and it achieved nothing.
The very person I was hiding from had once told me, “Wherever you go, there you will be.” What he meant was that no matter how much I hid, no matter where I went, or whatever I tried to distract myself with, my own heart and the truth would follow me. If I didn’t set my heart on the Lord, I’d be no better in any situation, and I’d never learn to do the things God had laid before me.
And so with the encouragement I found in those song lyrics and with what I can only describe as God’s presence, I decided to retire the ways of the ninja. I reached out to my old small group leader with an apology and an offer to meet up and talk. I acknowledged my trial and my lesson, and I started to experience joy. My old leader responded with grace, excitement, and kindness. Exactly what Jesus would have done, and exactly what I know God needed me to see and understand. Facing my issues was so much more worthwhile than running from them.