If you chose a different path...if you became an atheist like me, then I would be proud of you."
It's not so easy for a daughter to hear these words from her own father. As many of you know, my parents divorced when I was very young, and my biological father is a staunch atheist. Now I love my dad very much, but I would be lying to you if I claimed that his harsh words don't affect me.
What I have learned from my relationship with my father is that those who constantly tear others down are those who fail to understand the love of Jesus. If we understood the love of Jesus, then surely we would treat the people in our lives much differently.
It's no easy task - loving like Jesus loves, forgiving like Jesus forgives, and living like Jesus lives. If it was easy, wouldn't everyone be doing it? If it took no effort, wouldn't the whole world be full of Christians?
Yet that right there is the core of Christianity: like anything else in life, it takes effort. A relationship with Jesus doesn't just happen. You can't wake up one day and say, "I think I want to fall in love with Jesus today." It doesn't happen in a day, a month, or even a year. It takes a whole lifetime and even more to develop a relationship with Christ.
It always baffles me when people say, "I just don't 'feel' Jesus, so he must not be real." That's like saying that because I don't feel constant love from my friends or family, they must not REALLY love me. Yet even when it comes to my biological father, although I do not constantly feel his love, his love for me is still real. He just shows his love in different ways.
Just because you don't feel Jesus' love does not mean that Jesus isn't real. You must understand the precious amount of time and effort that a relationship with Jesus takes. You have to work at it. The way one person experiences Jesus may not be the same way another experiences him. You have to discover what works best for you.
How do you experience Jesus? Do you see him in nature - in the trees, in the water? Do you see him in Scripture - in the Gospels, in the letters of Paul? Do you see him in the people in your life - in your friends, in your family? Think about what brings you closest to Christ, and pursue it.
Think about that word "pursue." I want to pursue Him with all that I have. I want to seek Him and find Him in my daily life, through Church, through Scripture, through nature, through the people around me. And as I seek Him, Jesus says to me, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).
As we approach this new year, I hear two voices speaking to me. One is a loud - a very harsh yell. "You do not make me proud, Haley. You are delusional. Wake up from this fairytale life. It's all a myth. Jesus isn't real. Don't be such an idiot. You're much smarter than that. No God, no masters...when you leave God, then you'll be free to live as you want." Yelling, yelling, it won't stop yelling. Pounding on my ears, giving me the worst headache imaginable.
The second voice is soft, barely audible. It whispers, "Listen to me, my little one. I'll show you a better way. I'll show what it means to be free. Where there is darkness, I'll bring you light. Where there is chaos, I'll bring you peace. Just trust in me. Take my hand. Grab hold. Let me surprise you with my love."
Sometimes I can hardly hear the second voice - the first is much too loud. That's the thing: it takes effort to hear the voice of Christ. It takes effort to establish a relationship with Him. It takes effort to be able to overlook the voice of the world yelling at you, saying, "You don't make me proud. You are a failure. There is no God," and instead listen to the barely audible whisper of Jesus softly saying, "I love you. I love you. Listen to me. I'll give you rest. I'll give you freedom. Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
My challenge to you this week is to listen for that whisper - the whisper of Jesus. He's speaking to you; you're just not listening closely enough.
Open your ears; open your eyes; start living your life.
Song of the week: "Voice of Truth" by Casting Crowns