Sarah Lewis | January 3, 2022
“I’ll go anywhere and do anything for you God. Just don’t call me to Los Angeles or New York City, those are off the table as you decide how to use me.”
That’s a real thing I said to God as a teenager. Often. And I genuinely thought I was such a blessing to Him as I gave Him so many other options of places to take me. There were two measly cities I was putting my foot down about. Cities I could never see myself living (much less thriving) in. Cities that were intimidating and dirty and loud and crowded and probably didn’t need the gospel anyway. So God could do whatever He wanted with me as long as it didn’t involve me living in LA or NYC.
So, as you’d expect, I lived in LA for a while. Well, sort of. I lived just outside of LA (I guess God was easing me in to what real obedience looks like). I went to college there, got my first apartment there, met my husband and started our lives together there. And despite the fact that God blatantly ignored my stipulations once already, I genuinely did not see New York coming.
And yet, as my search history fills up with apartments for rent in Queens and Harlem, I’ve been reflecting on how bad we humans are at gauging where joy will come from. Maybe if we have that job, or get that thing, or hear that affirmation, or accomplish that goal. Maybe if we eliminate that worry, or silence that voice, or balance that fatigue, or remove that obstacle. Maybe if we can compromise with God—He gets a bit of what He wants and we get a bit of what sounds nice to us—maybe that could work. Maybe if I go wherever He takes me as long as it is somewhere I’d like to live, then He and I can both be happy.
But there are very few people more unhappy than those who try to follow God while also trying to keep a bit of their own will tucked away for themselves (I know this from experience). The Christian walk is best done as an absolute. As C.S. Lewis said,
Christ says, “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
For me, it’s New York. For some people the thought of heading over seas, or adopting a kid, or doing homeless ministry, becomes the “just not that,” conversation with God. But when we allow His will to become our will, we start to find joy in places we never imagined. James talked about joy in various trials. Peter found joy in suffering. Jesus joyfully endured the cross. The believers in Acts rejoiced as they were dishonored. None of these seem like situations that should bring about joy, unless we give ourselves to the joy found in obedience. It’s a steady joy that lifts itself up over circumstances and outlasts the ebb and flow of situations. It relaxes into trust and looks to future hope. And it relinquishes agendas again and again. As C.S. Lewis went on to say:
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and fretting; coming in out of the wind.
I can tell you right now, I don’t light up at the thought of sharing 600 square feet with my kids. It doesn’t excite me to sludge through the wet snow for multiple blocks only to hop on a crowded subway for an hour. I haven’t fallen in love with the idea of pushy people, and hurried taxis, and a lack of nature as far as the eye can see. But I’m learning a lot about a joy that accompanies surrender. And I’m banking on a God whose ways are higher than mine. And I’m looking back on my time in LA when He was faithful and good. And I’m looking forward to seeing what He will do again.