I was in a dark forest. He was walking close to me, just ahead and to my left when he offered, "Follow me." His invitation awakened something inside my soul and I was compelled to go with him though I could only see the shadow of his eyes behind his hood...
I must digress. Two things: First, have I mentioned I'm a recovering perfectionist? I've started a couple entries about it, but they weren't good enough. (Ba-dum-dum. I only wish I was kidding.) For some reason I grew up thinking if I could be good enough, I would be happy and accepted. If I earned the best grades, won my dance competitions, looked good enough and behaved properly, life would somehow be better and people would like me. As you might imagine, because I obviously am not and cannot be perfect, I became angry, frustrated and unhappy. Even though I knew in my head only Christ is perfect, I still thought perfection was expected from me as well. "Be ye perfect," right? (Somehow "perfect" still meant "perfect" instead of "complete in Christ.") It was a weird dichotomy - trying so desperately to perform something I knew was innately impossible and still being angry at myself for not meeting my own ungodly expectations. Weird, right? I know. That's the worst part. Second, everyone's been hurt. I get that. Everyone's hurt someone else. I get that, too. That's why we all must forgive. The hardest part, for me, was being hurt by people in the body. Feeling abandoned, rejected, ostracized and disqualified has been a tough road. I'm not meaning to complain because there are times of both discipline and pruning and God ordains those times and I accept them. I don't have a victim complex. I will say navigating through it all has certainly been an interesting journey, one I wouldn't have chosen for myself, but one God has used to teach me many lessons.
...back to the forest. A few days before this dream and within a period of about a week, I'd heard not one, but two radio teachings where Jesus simply said "Follow me."
Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
You Follow Me
I had heard it many times before, but this time it was different. Tears ran down my hot cheeks (thankful my kids weren't in the car with me) as my heart realized I hadn't been following Him. Yes, I knew Him; I knew many things about Him. I prayed. I read. I pondered. Yet faced with the personal question His Spirit was was asking my mine, I had to admit with grief my heart had been wandering. I had allowed hurt and fear to paralyze me. I'd been wondering, "What about this or that person, or what they'll say about us?" I realized why Proverb 29:5 had been floating around in my mind for so long, "The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe." And I definitely hadn't been trusting Him. In fact, in the more honest moments of my mind I'd wanted to turn and walk away. Run, maybe. Still He was beckoning, "You follow Me." "You." "I want you." When it was just Him and me in my car, there was no one to blame but myself. Nothing else mattered but what He was speaking to my heart. He reminded me of how I was as a child, how I used to love reading His words in red in my bible. He asked me to do it again, to search for Him through those red words. As a child, my faith was strong. I had always wanted to follow Him.
Within the week I'd heard it again, "Follow Me." The next Sunday during music/worship, the worship leader sang love songs proclaiming wholehearted abandon and adoration for Jesus. As I sang along, I wanted so badly for those words to be true for me again. Then came the same question Jesus asked Peter, "Do you agape Me?"
"Oh, Lord, I phileo You. I want to agape you," I answered, grieved at my confession.
"Do you agape Me?" "I phileo You. I can't agape. I don't know how."
"Feed my sheep. As you've done to the least of these my brethren, you've done to Me."
And then what song played? "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." One of my favorites as a child and one new meaning has been ascribed to as an adult.
"I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No Turning Back,
No Turning Back"
"Follow Me," - I heard it again in the teacher's message after worship. Life outside the church box, as he described it. Not getting so caught up in "church life" that we miss the opportunities outside the four walls of a building - the things I had been feeling for years. He encouraged us to focus on practically serving others outside those walls and sharing Jesus' love with them.
There's another conversation Jesus had with His disciples including Simon Peter in John 6:67-78. Jesus told them something they didn't understand or like and it caused many disciples to leave and walk away from Him. Then Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
That's what I come back to. Whom have I but You, Lord? There's no one else.
He wants want us to have His heart, and I've been so caught up in the bad things that happened in "church life" I've neglected simply following Him.
Lord, Life is a dark and deep forest - so dark I can't see where I'm going no matter how badly I want to be good enough/independent/cable of figuring it all out myself...but I'm unprepared and lonely and lost and still drawn to You with an aching in the caverns of my heart and soul. You haven't given up on me or disqualified me from knowing and serving You. You are still drawing my heart and mind back to You with Your invitation and burning presence. It's just You and me as You gently lead me with your invitation, "You follow Me.