On CEOs and the Nudging of God

“What are you, a CEO?” my friend smirked.

“A what?” I asked, feeling a bit vulnerable from her tone.

“Christmas and Easter Only,” she explained. “I never see you go to church, and now here you are in your Easter best. What a joke!”

Take a trip with me back to 1992, when I was a senior in college. It had been a wonderful, difficult, fun-loving, tumultuous year. I was going to graduate in a few months, and Easter was upon us. On a whim, I decided to attend an Easter service.

(c) Bartek Ambrozik

(c) Bartek Ambrozik

This wouldn’t have been a big deal if I had attended church growing up, but the truth was that I was 21 years old and had never attended an Easter service before. Ever. And so, I decided to take a risk.

Why was such a seemingly benign activity a risk? Because — while my college friends may not have guessed this — I was deeply insecure about entering situations in which I was a novice. I was never exposed to the idea that my significance came from God’s love for me, so I had come to believe that my self-worth depended on my performance and the approval of others. And so, placing myself in an unfamiliar environment — church on Easter Sunday — provoked extreme anxiety.

But I went. And I loved it. I recall my heart feeling full as I walked from the church to the student center for lunch. I was still in my “Easter best.”

And that’s when my friend called me a CEO.

I love this friend; I am still in touch with her, and I forgive her for saying these things. But I can’t deny the damage those words incurred.

Sure, the feelings of inadequacy, of being a fake, of being unworthy of going to church because I hadn’t made a habit of it, of the whole idea being a big mistake — these were all painful and lingering. But the greatest damage that was done was revealed in my response: I didn’t go back to church the next week.

Looking back, this deeply saddens me. I hadn’t really chosen to attend Easter services on a whim — God had nudged me, and although initially I listened and acted upon His nudge, I ultimately ignored Him in the face of ridicule. At that time, I was so susceptible to the opinions of others that I deferred the most important relationship of my life — my relationship with God.

Now, as a late bloomer to Christ, I can’t help but think about those who might be going to their very first Easter service this Sunday. It might be easy to look at them and think about their unfamiliar faces, or how perhaps the only other time we’ve seen them was at services during Christmas.

It might be tempting to think of them as CEOs and shake our heads.

But because I’ve been on the receiving side of this assumption, I’d like to suggest a different way of thinking about people who might fit this description.

Each of these people has been nudged by God in some way, and that is something to praise and celebrate. Those discovering Christ have to start somewhere. What better time than Holy Week? I choose to see the good in their participation and will make a conscious effort to welcome and encourage new faces instead of assume their attendance is fleeting or ceremonial. The last thing I want to do is crush their enthusiasm and hope as mine was shamed long ago.

The way God nudges people continues to humble and amaze me. His knack for meeting people where they are, at the perfect place and time, is unrivaled. I pray that those who are nudged to attend Easter services this Sunday receive the kindness and nurturing they need to deepen their relationship with Christ throughout the coming year.

On Lent and Going Deeper

As a late bloomer, this is the first year I’ve actively participated in the season of Lent. Before then, I simply knew that some of my friends would give up a vice — caffeine, sweets, and alcohol were the most common — for a tortuous 40 days.

“Why are they doing this?” I wondered. And yet, I didn’t ask because I was afraid of looking foolish or, worse yet, offending someone (after my cringe-worthy faux pas on a long-ago Ash Wednesday, my fear of offending was palpable).

I assumed the “giving up” was to evoke some kind of transformation. But I was confused when I saw people go right back to their vices when the Lenten season came to a close. What was transformed? I felt I was missing something.

(c) James Chan

(c) James Chan

Fortunately, I stumbled upon an eloquent article by the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America called Looking into the Mirror: A Lenten Reflection. Here, I learned that Lent is more about realigning our relationship with God than tackling a specific vice.

Sure, I could choose to deprive myself of a tangible item as a way of contemplating what I really needed versus what I simply wanted. But as a late bloomer, I felt I needed to go deeper.

The article explained that Lent entails reflection, repentance, and renewal. We must look into the mirror and face the demons that have been tormenting us and surrender them over to God.

And so — although I certainly could have used a 40-day hiatus from Oberweis ice cream — I opted to make a list of the events in my life that haunt me.

Things I’ve done. Things done to me. Things I’ve seen and participated in that I wish I could erase. Things in the past that still hold power over my sense of self-worth.

And then, I devoted myself to spending time each day praying about these things in the context of three forms of forgiveness.

I told God all about each thing that happened (even though He already knew, of course). Then, I repented for the role I played in each event and asked for forgiveness. I also prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me with forgiveness for the people who hurt me, and asked that they be blessed. Finally, I prayed for the capacity to forgive myself and to surrender over to God any guilt and shame I had been harboring within my heart.

It hasn’t been easy (there’s a reason we avoid facing our demons; it’s painful) — and I’m not done yet. But it has been truly transformative. I feel closer to God than ever before, and the stunning gift of salvation through Christ has renewed my sense of purpose.

I have nothing against giving up a specific vice for Lent, and I may try that some day. But for me, a bit of God-searching helped me realize that this year, the real vice I needed to let go of was the past.