Stories of plodding

I love a good testimony.

I heard one this week while sitting in Starbucks drinking my passion tea. My companion told me his story of the most miraculous change—from a destructive and self-obsessed life of addiction to one of the most extraordinary service for others. For him that change is linked to a moment, an encounter. It’s like a U-turn forever marked on his life’s Google map. As I listened to his story, I was transfixed.

I don’t know what it is about these tales of transformation—the drama of miraculous reversals, the defining moments of epiphany and repentance—but I’m on the edge of my seat.  It’s the same with those old bible stories: Moses with his burning bush or Paul blinded on the Damascus Road—they reel me in every time. ‘I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.’

To be honest, I can sometimes feel like a religious voyeur, secretly longing for my own tale of dramatic personal revolution. The truth is, I don’t have one, and at my age the chances of procuring one are slim.  For the most part my life has been mundane and predictable, change incremental, and experiences of transformation ploddingly slow. Nothing to see here.

Don’t get me wrong. Now in my 50s, I’ve had my share of challenges and there have certainly been significant changes along the way, but mostly I only know them in retrospect. Of course, I’m not alone. I’ve done enough listening to others in my time to know that this more plodding experience of transformation is actually the norm.

The author Rebecca Solnit offers encouragement to the plodders like me:

‘Even earthquakes are the consequence of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the build up, just the release. You see a sick person, an old person, a dying person. The sight sinks in, and somewhere down the road you change your life. In movies and novels, people change suddenly and permanently, which is convenient and dramatic but not much like life, where you gain distance on something, relapse, resolve, try again, and move along in stops and starts, and stutters. Change is mostly slow. In my life, there have been some transformative events, and I’ve had a few sudden illuminations and crises, crossed a rubicon or two, but mostly I’ve had the incremental.’

The miraculous story for me, and others like me, is not so much in the lightening bolts and epiphanies of life, but in the incremental persistence of it all. Each day I show up, and so does grace. It will never be as exciting as others, but perhaps it’s still a story worth telling.

7 Comments

  1. Hi Simon, have you ever encountered a missiological framework that explores the 4 “conversion” frameworks? It is a fascinating bit of study. It explores cultural implications in how we understand and then organise around notions of “conversion”. The reason I ask is that there is an incremental, slow and steady model referred to as the Johanine model that in modern Western cultures is either unrecognised or if it is indeed recognised, it is not considered a legitimate form of transformation. This is what immediately came to mind when I read this article. I’d love to discuss what occurred to the youth ministry that Lisa led back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s when we considered how to make the community safe for all types. Love your musings.

    Reply

    1. No, Stephen, I haven’t seen it but I’ll keep my eye open for it. Sounds helpful. I have come across some suggestions re John’s gospel, similar to the one you’ve highlighted. And this was confirmed on a recent reading bia Lee’s commentary on spirituality in John. Interesting.

      Reply

  2. Hey Simon. This dramatic transformational event does actually have a name: the new birth (as all the older evangelicals described it). I recommend you pick up a book of Billy Graham’s ‘Peace with God’. In it he describes the new birth as the moment one enters the kingdom of god (what the gospel was always supposed to be about). He states that with people there are generally 3 ways that one gets to the kingdom of god:
    – A ‘crisis conversion’ where somebody has been living in darkness most of their life and Gods grace is offered to them so they fully grab onto it and are reborn into the kingdom
    – A person who is having an inner battle between light and darkness, till a dramatic climactic moment where they fully choose the light and are reborn
    – A slower more gradual moving towards the light with a definite point of ‘crossing the line’ (as he calls it)

    Its possible you are in the third category and you haven’t ‘crossed the line’ yet. For me personally it was the second option, and it brings a pure peace and fulfilment like one has never known.
    Perhaps these events aren’t as mysterious as you think. I’d recommend you pick up the book and meditate on it.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Matt. I have to say, though, I reckon I’ve crossed a few ‘lines’ in my life of faith, and I can only assure you I’ll keep crossing them as they emerge! Blessings to you.

      Reply

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