By Matt Reffie
Disruptions are just part of life. No matter how well we try to prepare or plan around them, sooner or later something comes along to interrupt your flow or shake your foundation. Work falls through, you have to make a difficult move, a relationship ends, or some combination of the unexpected rocks your boat from all sides. When this happens to me I tend to withdraw and shut down. Sometimes it is so jarring that I have to completely reevaluate my life-plan before I’m able to move forward in any real way. In my younger years, life was so full of disruptions that even in the good times I was always sort of waiting for something bad to happen. It wasn’t until I got serious about my faith that I found some real, solid ground to stand on during life’s storms.
When everything around us seems uncertain and chaotic, it can be hard to stay focused on what’s important. Without a firm foundation under our feet, it is difficult to grow and make any real progress in life. The stronger our foundation is, the better we’re able to weather the storms life throws at us. For many of us, there is a period of despair, panic, or bewilderment before we’re able to get back to a foundational base we know we can stand up on. For me that foundation is my relationship with God. It’s the one relationship in my life that has always been there in a consistently reliable way. God is the one connection who keeps me tethered to my ‘self’ no matter what else is going on.
Sadly, sometimes I drift, lose focus, or get distracted from this relationship without even realizing it until something bad comes along. It makes me think of when Jesus’ disciples thought they were going to die when they were out at sea during a bad storm (see Matt. 8:23-27). In the midst of the disruption and chaos they couldn’t even imagine surviving, let alone moving forward to establish the New Kingdom with Jesus. It wasn’t necessarily that they lacked faith in Jesus or his Kingdom, but more that they were brought to doubt their own foundational hopes and expectations in being a part of it. With some of those hopes and expectations misplaced, in that moment of disruption, they were left with shaky foundations. It takes crying out to Jesus before they’re brought to solid ground again, both physically and spiritually. I think this is what it is like for us as well. We think we have a firm foundation to stand on in our faith, but we often have some misplaced expectations that make the base seem bigger than it is or we have too small a conception of our relationship with God for the base to be very big to begin with. To better prepare for life’s storms we need a bigger, more reliable faith foundation.
There are several ways to expand and strengthen our foundations. One way is to get rid of some of the misplaced hopes and expectations we have. The apostle Peter had to shed his expectation that Jesus would establish the New Kingdom in an immediate and physical way. When Jesus rebuked him for raising a sword during his arrest (see John 18:10-11), a chunk of his foundation fell right out from under him. It must have been an incredibly jarring time, but ultimately he realized this misplaced expectation was never intended to be a part of his base in the first place. By losing it he was eventually able to strengthen and expand his foundation to where he could stand up, move forward, and accomplish more for the New Kingdom than he could have ever imagined.
Another way to expand our foundation is to open ourselves up to a wider conception of our relationship with God. Often it is a lack of faith or fear of the unfamiliar that keeps us from exploring the wide boundaries God has given us. This is problematic for two reasons. First, not trusting God to bear us through unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations leads us to settle into a smaller set of boundaries. Eventually our small, comfortable spot in life develops into a rut we can simply remain stuck in, and our base remains small. This might occur in your life from deciding not to try to get to know a neighbor, too often turning down invitations to things you don’t think you’ll like or are just afraid to try, or any number of opportunities in life that you say no to just to avoid being stretched at all. When I was in college it took two semesters of invitations before I finally visited the campus worship meeting. The people there seemed weird and I wasn’t sure we even believed any of the same things, but once I opened up to God’s leading I ended up meeting some of my greatest friends. We need to open ourselves up to more and more of what God might have to give us; otherwise our base is going to remain small and more easily shaken in hard times.
This is the second reason we need to expand our base: forming and protecting a comfortable bubble for ourselves is actually what often sets us up for a hard fall when chaotic life happens. If you think about your last rough season, you can probably identify at least one or two areas where God might have been trying to push you a bit and you dragged your feet instead. One example for me was a dating relationship in my youth. I distinctly felt God telling me it wasn’t the right direction, but at the time the relationship was fun and comfortable. It wasn’t until much later that I saw what God saw and the inevitable breakup was by then a much more painful process than it needed to be. If I had relied on my faith and connection with God rather than my own understanding, that particular storm wouldn’t have been very tumultuous at all. By pushing our boundaries and relying on God to sustain us even outside our comfort zones, we can expand the base of our foundations. Then when the next storm comes we’ll have surer footing from which to find a way forward.
So where do we begin in shoring up and expanding our faith foundation? It might be as simple as a prayer asking God to show you where to begin. Lord, what misplaced hopes and expectations am I holding on to? What should I say ‘yes’ to this week even though I don’t feel like it? If starting there is too deep or too much right off the bat, here are a few very practical suggestions from Sam Van Eman’s recent book, Disruptive Discipleship. The book can be used as a guide to handling disruption well and offers these challenges as just a small part of how we can grow spiritually by being intentional with our life experiences. One suggestion is to pick an activity that makes you uncomfortable (commit to a generous tithe, take a painting class, sing in public). Pick something challenging and trust God to see you through it. Another is to intentionally let go of a long-held fantasy or dream. Maybe it’s getting famous or striking it rich, but we all hold on to some dreams that aren’t attainable enough to spend energy holding on to. Pick one and determine to reallocate that energy to the many more worthy pursuits God has given you. You can also let go of a relationship you’ve been unnecessarily holding onto. It might be a loved one you’ve lost or a broken or unrequited relationship that you’ve had trouble accepting. The book suggests writing a letter thanking God for what that relationship has meant in your life and resolve to let it go. By doing so, you can avoid remaining in a rut and open yourself up further to the relationships in your life right now.
These are just a few examples of what Disruptive Discipleship has to offer. There is much more to it, and I recommend giving it a read if you’re looking for challenging and practical ways to grow spiritually. Hopefully your spiritual foundation is already expansive and firm. Your relationship with God can carry you through all things. But if you’re like me, there is a lot to be gained in being more proactive and intentional. Even when I think I’m prepared for any of life’s storms, inevitably I find myself on shakier ground than I realized. Thankfully, God is always here, sweeping away any false foundation I’ve been collecting and replacing it with more of my true self and the great vision he has for my life. So before the next disruption hits, what can you do to strengthen and expand your foundation?