A quarter of a century.
That’s how old this I became a couple of weeks ago. Twenty-five whole years survived. Apparently it’s old enough to make me nostalgic, because my Spotify playlist recently looks like it’s come straight out of 2005.
(Admittedly, it’s partly an ongoing side effect of falling in love: listening to the cheesiest songs of my youth and grinning to my younger self, telling her that it’s all okay; we really do get swept off our feet in the end.)
I’ve been thinking back to what my faith looked like 10 years ago, and it’s always tempting to try to recreate the best bits of the past. As people who constantly wander, get distracted, forget what we’re focusing on, the instinct is often to try to get back. To find what we drifted away from. To rediscover what used to work so well.
But the more I’ve tried to imagine that, re-reading my old prayer diaries and digging out the songs we used to sing at Youth Alpha team meetings, the more I’ve realised how much our experience of God, and our expressions of faith, are moulded by circumstance.
And life looks very different now.
At 15, life consisted of school, home, family, friends, boys, church, youth club, and a whole lot of dreams. So when I thought about sharing my faith, it meant inviting people from school to Christian Union. When I thought about persecution, it meant being laughed at for reading the Bible on the bus. When I thought about being servant-hearted, it meant doing the worst jobs when clearing up after youth club. When I thought about sin, it meant having kissed too many boys. When I thought about sacrifice, it meant giving up a pound or two of my paper round money for charity.
And what I needed from God felt limited to that world. I had a lot of feelings as a kid – I needed God to comfort me when I panicked, when I was scared, when I was overwhelmed, when family life crumbled, when I’d hurt my friends, when I felt under-appreciated in serving, when I was disappointed by rejection. I depended on God because no-one else could do those things. It was intimate, it was needy, it was constant.
Now of course, life looks so much different. I am a grown up, independent, responsible adult. I have seen the world (well, a few bits of it). I have learned resilience. I can bleed a radiator. I have bought furniture. And I still have an awful lot of feelings, but they don’t hold the reins of my life with quite so tight a grip any more.
The world has got a whole lot bigger, so my faith has too. Sharing my faith could mean answering a friend’s question about Jesus but it could also mean preaching to crowds, setting up a charity, or writing a book. Serving could mean cooking food for people who are homeless, mentoring teenagers, or becoming a vicar. Sin includes my contribution to climate change, my apathy in the face of war and persecution, my participation in an unjust economic system. Sacrifice could mean living as part of a religious community, taking a pay cut to follow God’s call, or moving in to a rough bit of town to plant a church.
It’s a little bit daunting – in this massive world, following Jesus really could mean following him anywhere, to anything. So I’ve been telling God what I need now – direction, guidance, calling, courage, strength, selflessness, character, communication skills, deep friendships, purpose, family. It seems like serving God with my whole heart and my whole life is such a big ask, with such great potential, that more than anything I need equipping, I need to become the best version of myself and I need the best tools for the tasks at hand.
But God says otherwise.
He says I need him.
He says I need to stay close. I need to listen carefully. I need to look to him often. I need to turn to him constantly. What I need, what I still need at 25 as much as at 15, and what I’ll still need just as much when I’m 105, is to be intimate, needy, dependent. I will never outgrow the presence of God.
In 10 years, everything has changed: I’ve finished the treadmill of education, I’m old enough to choose to go anywhere, do anything, commit to whatever God asks of me, and it’s scary. The world is full of potential and the implications of faith in Jesus seem to have no limit.
But in 10 years, nothing has changed: I’m called before anything else to remain a child held in my Father’s arms, just being loved and learning to listen.
So the plan for the next decade? Stay close. Stay intimate. Stay dependent.