Standing on a London street corner, G.K. Chesterton was approached by a newspaper reporter. “Sir, I understand that you recently became a Christian. May I ask you one question?”
“Certainly,” replied Chesterton.
“If the risen Christ suddenly appeared at this very moment and stood behind you, what would you do?”
Chesterton looked the reporter squarely in the eye and said, “He is.”
(quoted from Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child)
Have you ever had a day where you felt like throwing it all away? Where efforts made in recovery felt senseless or without reward? Recently I received some news that punched me in the gut, making me wonder if I would ever get ahead of the wreckage of my past. Sometimes it feels like I take one step forward only to be knocked two steps back.
I called a friend who is also in recovery and we took a walk. I shared my frustration over my circumstances and my anxiety over the future and admitted that in moments like these I wonder, why bother? Why continue choosing recovery when nothing else seems to be going my way?
I don’t know about you, but far too often I lack Chesterton’s faith and fail to imagine Christ’s present risenness, choosing to believe that I am all alone in my circumstances. I confess that many days, weeks and even months have gone by where I live as a practical atheist, moving through life as though it were a series of unrelated events, each of which I must endure or survive, alone. I forget that Christ is behind me.
My friend reminded me on our walk that continuing to make good choices can and will help me face the reality of my circumstances in more healthy ways. Seeking God in the midst of the mess is hard but necessary work that can deliver us from despair and give rise to hope. She’s right. Remembering that Christ is behind me – and before and above and beside me – is the sort of discipline I need as I am being put back together.
Later that day I took time to pray and focus my gaze on the ever-present risen Christ. The painful circumstance didn’t go away. But the resentment I felt towards those involved began to recede. Anger gave way to empathy. Thoughts of retribution moved to mercy. And the shame I so often wear like a blanket began to unravel at the seams.
Learning to meditate on the present risenness of Christ is a discipline I’m working to cultivate. And that is exactly what it is – a discipline. Retraining our minds to see the risen Christ always behind, before and beside us requires the same sort of discipline required for getting to the gym every day or eating right. But the benefits will change a life for the better. Brennan Manning describes how the life-giving Spirit shows up on our bad days:
[Spirit shows up] in our willingness to stand fast, our refusal to run away and escape into self-destructive behavior. Resurrection power enables us to engage in the savage confrontation with untamed emotions, to accept the pain, receive it, take it on board, however acute it may be. And in the process we discover that we are not alone, that we can stand fast in the awareness of present risenness and so become fuller, deeper, richer disciples. We know ourselves to be more than we previously imagined. In the process we not only endure but are forced to expand the boundaries of who we think we really are (Abba’s Child, 105).
To know ourselves to be more than we previously imagined. When I imagine myself resorting to my old ways of coping with reality the outcome is always the same – temporary relief or forgetfulness followed by guilt and shame, never resulting in hope, freedom, serenity or life. But when I imagine myself resting in the resurrected presence of Christ, the outcomes possible are limitless, brimming with promise and vitality.
Today I am encouraged by the prospect of knowing myself to be more than I previously imagined. I’m excited to know that whatever I face today I don’t face alone. I’m grateful that the trials I experience today are producing in me character that will equip me for tomorrow.
What are some ways you can be mindful of Christ’s risenness, his being behind, before, and beside you when circumstances seem to be against you?