I have powerful childhood memories of trying to find ways to fulfill my dream of being a Major League Baseball player. I think these attempts parallel the activities associated with repentance – switching stories – and this kind of seeking can be truly childlike and godly. It does not have to be neurotic, paranoid, religiously weird or legalistic. It has nothing to do with trying to earn something from God. I like the way one well-known radio personality puts it: “The great [religious] traditions are not systems for an impossible perfection but for aspiration to grace within the possibilities and the boundaries of every life, every moment.” We may not be able to readily see it, but we can move into that kind of grace-filled life with a relaxed concentration, a peace that others experience as good.
Striving to please God is not a bad thing. Certainly Jesus’ first followers were trying to do so (see Philippians 3). It pleases God to see his children arranging life’s affairs to fulfill their God-given call or vision. This process feels like I am simply responding to something deep within me. It’s a very natural thing to do.
I remember joyfully walking down Santa Ana’s streets, passing under the rows of palm trees linking the library’s sidewalk and through big glass doors. I would sit for hours reading books on how to hit a baseball. My favorite book at the time was by Ted Williams, the last player to hit over .400 for an entire season in the major leagues. Ted was “the” authority on hitting, especially when it came to being disciplined about the strike zone, about knowing which pitches to swing at and on what counts.
I realize now, with the benefit of forty years of hindsight, that the combination of regularly observing Williams (and other great hitters) and hearing his explanations of what he was attempting to do in the batter’s box not only informed me, it transformed my imagination. I imagined standing like him at the plate, holding the bat the way he did, even trying to emulate his attitude, focus and confidence. Because I had a vision of being a major league hitter and decided to become one, I naturally sought out all types of means to become one, not just books on the subject.
When a vision of a different life – life in the kingdom – is clear and compelling, when we have firmly decided to follow it, we will certainly begin looking for means of implementation. I do this now in many ways in my attempt to follow Jesus, and for the most part I do it in a childlike manner. I’ve discovered that getting uptight about this stuff does no good. I’ve come to believe that Jesus actually knew what he was talking about when he said:
What I am trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving . . . . Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now. (Matthew 6:31-34)
© Todd Hunter, Christianity Beyond Belief, Used by Permission, IVP