Before I even started writing this assignment, I knew that in the last couple of years, I felt like a part of me faded away. Like I had been “off” for half a decade and had become a lesser version of what I once was. It’s difficult to explain since most of you reading this article never knew me before. But I once felt like God had great plans for me. It wasn’t out of a misguided belief in my own greatness—I felt completely open to God’s plan and whatever special design he had for me. There was a power, a quiet confidence, honesty, and clarity that came with trust in God. I lived humbled and grateful, and regardless of the events in my life, there was a certain amount of joy that remained the same no matter what life threw at me. But somehow, that part of me was lost, and a search party for what happened unwittingly occurred during my 30 day writing assignment.
The assignment was a simple concept. Others have made similar efforts and documented it. A.J. Jacobs wrote about his experience in The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Ed Dobson tried something similar as well and wrote The Year of Living like Jesus. My assignment was not as lengthy—30 days not a year. And all I had to do was to zone in on one particular sermon, Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. I was to conscientiously live by all that Jesus Christ taught in this fateful sermon and document it for 30 days.
Simple concept. Thirty days. Go.
Technically, this is a part of what we sign up for when we decide to follow God. I mean, isn’t following what Jesus taught one of the main aspects of being Christian? But this assignment scared me. Maybe it was the accountability portion. It’s one thing when you make a personal choice to follow Jesus’ teachings, but somehow there’s a heightened pressure to perform correctly when you’re being held accountable by a lot more people. It’s funny how much we are spurred to not disappoint strangers publicly, but aren’t quite as motivated to not disappoint God privately. On the whole, I considered myself an okay person: I did my best to respect others, I was very involved at my church, I took time to speak to God and read the Bible. I shared what I knew about God with others, and I did what I could to help others. What did I need to hide?
The Sermon itself is really a diverse mix of wisdom and lessons, covering everything from divorce to caring for the less fortunate to prayer. I tried to imagine myself calmly sitting on the mountain listening to Jesus, but honestly, I felt myself getting mental whiplash from all the different points he hit. I actually had to make a list, giving me a sort of reference guide of all that I needed to remember to live out—until it was really imbedded in me. And, as if to give a final swift kick to solidify my commitment, the end of the sermon struck me. Matthew 7: 24-27 says:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
Needless to say, I took the hint and committed to the assignment.
After years of trying and still losing my best friend, I grew weary of loving like God.
I thought the impact of doing this assignment would hit me gradually along the way. But no, that was definitely not the case. Immediately, the cracks of my character, my faith, and my foundation became incredibly and painstakingly visible. Since I was training myself to become acutely aware of my thoughts and actions, every angry, greedy or prideful thought was magnified. Anything I sealed with my “Yes” or “No” I had to remind myself to keep with consistency (Matt 5:37). Once I settled down to discipline myself to really follow the sermon’s lessons while reflecting on my life, I realized something—it’s been a very long time since I’d taken a good hard look at myself. Mostly because a) I didn’t really like the person I had become b) I didn’t really want to revisit how I had become this person and c) I didn’t want honesty, I just wanted things to stop being difficult. The truth of the 30 day assignment spilled out half-way through the first week: I had become an incredible liar at my core and it all started with a very painful heartbreak.
The break-up was a long time ago, years in fact, which is probably why there is a little more than a sting coming from feeling pathetic about it. But that seems to come with the territory of facing awful truths. I’m not one who really gives my heart easily, nor do I trust easily for that matter. But there was one person who was able to break through all of that for me—first as my best friend, then as my significant other, and even more so when we broke up and remained friends. So when things started to go bad for our friendship due to a strain between myself and the new significant other, I thought things would be rough, but I believed we would make it through.
For three years, we definitely tried. Oddly, while grappling through those three years—I remember also trying to live out the teachings in Matthew 5-7. When I felt like I was being slighted and really hurt, I would try to put my feelings aside and understand where others were coming from. I was willing to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), fighting my battles with kindness instead of giving hits. As painful as it was for me to think about the situation, I often spent a lot of time praying for all parties involved—even when it ripped me to do so—for “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (Matt 5:46). I wanted to be more like Christ—to love like he did—and I thought, what better way than to love and pray for those who dislike me. But I think the thing to remember about loving like God: God loves under the worst of conditions without expecting love in return. I think that’s where my disappointment stemmed. I wrongfully expected, at the end of the day, that things would get better. After years of trying and still losing my best friend, I grew weary of loving like God. And I don’t think I ever fully recovered from that disappointment.
From that broken relationship, I’ve kept my relationship with the truth, myself, others and God at a distance. The commitment of caring had become directly linked to a phobia of loss and disappointment, and I’ve become a lesser version of myself because of it. I had a sense that I was broken before—I just didn’t know how badly until I took the time to see.
But in keeping with my commitment to the assignment, and more importantly, mending this brokenness with God in mind, I knew I had to move beyond this truth and do more. Matthew 5:13-15 says:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and gives light to everyone in the house.
Thirty days for me, and I suspect for anyone, is not a sufficient amount of time to perfect living God’s teachings. I think it takes thoughtful time for those teachings to really be massaged into a person’s character. But it is enough to start brightening the lights in this dim world. It’s funny how the Bible is constant and ever-changing at the same time; the same words can change in its relevance and revelation depending on the different points in time in our life. While living out God’s word does take commitment, it should not replace asking for God’s help to live out the teachings to the best of our ability. It is in the merit of trying and willing to be honest, even when it hurts, are we able to grow. Just as the end of the sermon gave me gusto to move forward with the assignment, it is in the beginning of the sermon that continues to help me cope with the revelations from the assignment, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3).