Some people really like roller coasters. Some of those people are in my family and call me Dad. A couple of years ago, we went to Busch Gardens as a family and discovered a ride called The Griffon. This roller coaster became the highlight of the day for my two boys. I am not sure exactly how many times they went on this same ride in a row. What I do know as that it was after 8PM and nearly dark before they finally convinced me to go on it with them.
I have always struggled with a fear of heights and this ride was really high. Ironically, the height of the ride was not even my biggest concern. At just about the highest point in the ride, the ride slows down and you are suspended over the edge of the roller coaster tracks and are held there for what seems like an eternity. You are about to take the steepest drop of the ride and you don’t know exactly when it will happen. Just when you can’t take the suspense any longer, you plunge downward and the “free fall” is over in a nanosecond. Afterward I could see why my boys liked the ride so much, but also understood why you had to experience it to come to that conclusion. No amount of simply looking at the ride was going to convince me that it was a fun experience.
Life is like that sometimes. For a really long time as a teenager, I wanted the freedom of being a “grown up”. I wanted the ability to drive, to own my own things, to decide where I was going and what I was going to do. No more being stuffed in a car with my brothers and sisters and taken to wherever my parents saw fit. Then 1985 arrived.
I graduated from High School, went to college, attended my first Christian Booksellers Convention with my Dad and I met the girl who would become my wife. From where I sat, things looked pretty good and it was just about as much fun as I had imagined. The great adventure of adult life had begun and I was “all in”. Somehow though, just like the roller coaster ride, things did not go quite as I had expected. That December my grandfather died.
My grandfather was my earthly hero. He had founded the worldwide ministry of CLC, had allowed me to live in his home for two summers, taught me how to drive and was my mentor. He was the first person to ever ask me to speak in public in front of a crowd of adults, and I was only 14. This was not supposed to happen so early in my life. I was the first family member to arrive back in Fort Washington to be with my grandmother and the responsibility seemed overwhelming. How was I going to comfort her? Wasn’t that a job for the adults? I wasn’t even 18 yet and it didn’t seem fair. All I could do was to hold her in my arms, cry and pray. If this was adulthood, I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of it and yet there was no turning back.
Christian maturity is not an easy thing to measure. It’s not like there is an official age that you become a mature Christian. In fact, for many of us it is a lifelong process. One marker, though, is our willingness to embrace the adventure God has prepared for us with complete abandon. This has not always been easy for me. I would much rather measure my spiritual growth by tangible results like studying God’s word or spending time in prayer. While spiritual disciplines are very important in the life of every believer, an exclusive focus on these can lead to a dry, performance oriented journey and not much of an adventure at all.
I believe that God calls us to swim out into the deep water, get on the roller coaster and meet our fears head on. For some of us that may mean walking across the street to meet the neighbor we have been avoiding ever since we moved into the neighborhood. For others, it may mean starting or joining a Bible study and learning to be vulnerable and transparent with others – discussing our sin, repenting and being held accountable.
This week, I had the privilege of meeting and teaching four young adults who are about to begin a spiritual journey with our ministry this summer. Amanda and Jen will be going to England, Geli will be staying with us here in the USA and Ben will be going to Burkina Faso. My prayer is that each of them will be willing to step off the edge of their own spiritual cliff. As they surrender to will of their heavenly father, their lives will become more meaningful than they could have ever imagined.