It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose.
-Paul, Philippians 3:12
We have a growing pile of deer parts in the woods behind our house.
Ok, it's not the flesh and bone kind, but it can still feel creepy seeing a wooden deer head in the brush as you're going for a stroll.
Last winter I was inspired by a relative (thanks, Uncle Dan!) to make my own ornamental wooden deer with materials I found in the woods out back. I cut some logs to make a body and a head and then drilled tight fitting holes for the neck and legs, finding sticks on the ground to use. It was fun to make something festive and cheery in the dark winter. They turned out nice and we put a spotlight on them in front of the house. My family really loved them. The problem was, I used absolute junk wood. The fallen tree trunk bodies and heads were waterlogged and decaying, and the legs and antlers were brittle. So when my kids said, "they're cool, can we keep them and bring them out next year?" I was quick to let them know that those deer were already, quite literally, on their last legs. When it was time for tear down, I just put them out back in the woods and the weather did the rest. Old wooden deer don't die, they just fade away...
Let's jump to this winter. I wanted to make a mini-herd again. But as I walked around looking for better wood this time, something in me was drawn again toward junky stuff--- old fallen trunks that I knew wouldn't last. There was something meaningful as I thought about building them all over again as each winter begins. It would take extra work and time, allowing me to remember that there is great value in the process, and not simply the product. And rummaging through the forest again was time well spent, helping me intentionally welcome the winter and all that it would hold, with the right attitude. It's a vastly different experience than simply picking up the previously used deer.
There's something about the process of making that is exceedingly important in our faith. And I think we need to embrace making as a way of life, happening over and over again with Jesus.
A transformative life with Jesus doesn't simply stand on past work and pull out memorized information or old religious habits once in a while. Neither do healthy relationships rely on that one good connection from years ago. They are formed constantly, with regular work and activity.
Paul talks about not arriving, but continuing to press forward to grasp the fullness of God's love for him and the goodness of the kingdom.
The ongoing process is significant. We can obviously take that too far toward striving to be good enough for God's acceptance, but that misses the point.
Jesus invites us to get our hands dirty, over and over again, with the actions of love and discovery. Re-engaging with the process of discipleship is how God changes us, year after year.
I may not have answers for how exactly God works in the world… but I will continue the process of noticing God's presence rather than relying on my assumptions.
I may not know exactly what love looks like in a specific situation, but I will continue to humbly try, as I ask Jesus for wisdom and guidance. And that process is what honors God and helps me move toward a life fully formed in Christ.
I want to make, over and over again. To continue to work out my salvation, and to enter fresh into the sacred stories and seasons of faith.
Sometimes those actions of loving God and others may feel familiar, like building those deer each year. At other times it may feel like it’s a fresh and new project, as we discover new life-giving ways of relating to Jesus and exploring opportunities to work for compassion in our world.
We may be creating something new or renewing the creation of something familiar. Either way, as we go through the constant process of listening for Jesus and trusting the Jesus way of life, we'll always be building something beautiful in ourselves and for others.
Jesus, lead me again into the process of trusting you and building your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, every day.