by Sarah Van Diest @SarahVanDiest
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1
It seems to me that once we begin trying to evaluate our “effectiveness” as Christians, or determine how much we must do in order for the declaration “good and faithful” to be awarded us, that it is at that moment we have lost our way. It is a moment governed by law and not freedom.
I have these moments. Law fits so well, is familiar, but is so encumbering.
A well respected man in our church came up to me last Sunday after hearing me sing as we sat on the back row. “You need to be up there,” he said, pointing toward the stage.
“Oh, no, I’ve done that. I prefer to sing from back here, but thank you,” I replied, showing all my discomfort at the attention in each body movement and facial expression I made. Please don’t look at me is the cry of my heart at times like that.
But law creeps up behind me and taps me on the shoulder. I lean in and listen to what is says: “In order to honor God and be a good and faithful steward of the gifts He has given, you need to be up there, otherwise, you are failing God.” I’ve heard this all before, many, many times. Law goes on to say, “If it is hard for you, if you find the task to be uncomfortable or unpleasant, then it is good and God will be pleased.” Law sent me overseas to live as a missionary in remote parts of China and Costa Rica. It convinced me to marry a man I was already afraid of, and kept me imprisoned in abuse for many years. Law has faithfully led me down a road that looked good, and made me look good, but law’s road is full of death.
Right now, at least, the back row suits me.
I wonder about Paul, who used to be Saul, and how he sat on the back row for a long while as he processed through his Road to Damascus experience, as he learned of freedom, the Father and Jesus, and as the Holy Spirit taught him all things new and wonderful. I wonder what those years were like for him. How strange it must have felt for him to sit and be still. But mostly I wonder what stood him up from his back row seat and sent him up to the stage again. I know it wasn’t law. You can tell when you read his words. I know law’s voice; law doesn’t sound as Paul’s words sound. Law doesn’t say, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” I Cor. 9:19. Law wouldn’t know what to do with words like these.
Walking on law’s road won’t earn the declaration from God my heart longs to hear. I know that now and have for some time. So I’ve gotten off law’s path, though it beckons me still listing my gifts and talents, shaming me for every hour I spend not “on stage.” Though I am off of law’s road, I’m not sure I’m walking anywhere in particular. I confess that I am frequently uncomfortable here. My old ways of busyness and activity filled my moments once; I had no time or energy to ponder the thoughts I weigh today. Law told me to jump and I simply asked how high, how far and for how long. The more exhausted, frazzled, overwhelmed, and undone I became the more I imagined my God was pleased. Law paints an ugly picture of the Father.
I don’t know how long I will stay here. Frankly, I’m not even sure that’s where I am. All I really seem to know is that I’m not up on the stage right now. I think what I’m learning is what it is to be free. If I can compare my present experience with Paul’s, I guess I can comfort myself with the knowledge that he sat for quite a while, even more time than I have been sitting, and God used him mightily when the time came for him to get back on the stage.
When will I be ready to do that? I don’t know. And I don’t know how I will know, either. Nor do I know what it will look like, or even if it will ever happen.
For now, I’ll keep singing from the back row.
Educated as a teacher, Sarah taught school for nearly 20 years. As a young woman, she lived in China amid the rice paddies and water buffalo near Changsha, and then later taught English in Costa Rica for four years and raised her two sons.
Sarah is married for the second time, the mother of 2 boys and the step-mother to 3 more. She and her husband, David, work together in their agency The Van Diest Literary Agency. Her full name is Sarah Ruth Gerke Van Diest. She’s 5’5” and cuts her hair when stress overtakes her.
She is a freelance editor (including a New York Times and USA Today bestseller), blogger (The Write Conversation) and writer for hire. Her first book releases with NavPress in 2018.