When Faith is Tough (by Joel Davis)

Originally posted on the His Vigorous Heart blog... 

Photo: Joel Davis

Photo: Joel Davis

I’m Nine-ing so hard right now.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Enneagram, it is a personality assessment tool that we have found helpful at the Yellow House to help manage and understand our differences. Essentially, it categorizes 9 primary personality types that people can fall into, along with associated “wings” and periods of health and unhealth that expands and encompasses a wider range of emotional fluidity….whatever, it’s all very mathematical and complex and has already filled up countless hours of conversation in our house, with people who love it and people who are absolutely sick of hearing about it. (I fall somewhere toward the latter, but I do find it fascinating.) 

The Enneagram goes deeper than the Myers-Briggs and other similar tests, looking not only at how we act, but our motivations for doing so. Apparently, this tool stretches all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, developing popularity among the monastics and Eastern Orthodox priests, and is still being used widely today. 

If you’re interested in finding out what number your personality is, here’s the free online test we took

(And send me your answer, because regardless of how much I try to pretend like I’m over it, I’m actually really interested in diagnosing everyone I know.)

When I say I’m Nine-ing, what I jokingly mean is that I’m avoiding conflict and/or stressful situations by pretending they aren’t there slash removing myself from them. As a Nine, one of my primary goals is peacemaking, which often means I put other people’s desires before my own (why create conflict by sharing my opinion when I could just go with the flow?). When I can no longer handle being a doormat, however, my next option is to just disappear.

...I know. It’s not really the most effective way to actually handle stress. Nor is it the most noble. 

But that’s why I have sequestered myself in my room on the third floor, wrapped myself in a blanket, grabbed the nearest book, and crawled into my hammock. (Yes. You read that right. I have a hammock hanging in my bedroom. My house is cooler than your house.)

Sometimes community isn’t easy. Being a house known for its hospitality comes with a lot of expectations and demands, and sometimes you find strangers at your door asking for things you’re not sure you’re comfortable giving them.

Like last month, for example, we were getting ready for bed, when we heard a scream outside and witnessed a woman getting thrown out of a truck by a boyfriend who’d had too much to drink. One of my sweet housemates rushed outside and immediately invited her in. We fixed her some tea, offered her a sandwich, asked her questions, and then, when she excused herself to use our bathroom, we stared at each other with slightly panicked expressions on our faces. It’s 12:30 at night and we have a crying drunk woman in our bathroom who refuses to go home to her abusive boyfriend and can’t find any of her friends willing to take her in for the night. What have we gotten ourselves into?

(Thankfully, we have a wise and intelligent director who lives across the street from us. Don’t worry, Mom; you’d better believe we took this interval to send someone to go pound on her door until she woke up to come rescue us. In return, we gave her coffee.)

Usually, our hospitality is not so drastic in nature. Often, we have neighbors who simply want to come over to shower, to use our laundry machines, to spend the night because their house doesn’t have power. It’s not uncommon for some of the neighborhood kids to stop by our house for a popsicle or a glass of cold water on hot afternoons. 

But then, sometimes, someone drops a bombshell like “I’m a single black woman. I need a place to stay for two weeks. By the way, I have two kids under the age of 2.” And when she’s standing on your doorstep and she’s been your neighbor at the house down the block for several months and her sons are some of the most adorable creatures you’ve ever seen in your entire life, it’s really hard to say no. 

So here we are, having said "Yes" not only to her, but to her children, to her lifestyle, and to all of the excess baggage that goes along with saying yes to anyone in this circumstance.

I wish I could say that all of me was on board with this. I’d like to believe that my house would always be open to anyone in need; that I wouldn’t kick a young family out on the streets. But evidently it’s a lot easier to say those things than it is to live them out. I’m not trying to justify it, but for this introvert, “home” should be a place where I feel safe, comfortable, at peace; where I can relax and not have to be around other people all the time; where I know what is expected of me and know that I am capable of it. 

Photo: Amanda Angers

Photo: Amanda Angers

Reader, pray for us: our oldest is 25, our youngest is 23, and none of us are capably ready to be parents. Yet already we’ve found ourselves taking care of the kids when the mom has had to step out to take a phone call, to smoke, or--inexplicably, one time at 4 in the morning--when the baby was crying with a full diaper and neither the mom or a clean change of clothes were to be found. (It all worked out in the end.)

This life of radical generosity and hospitality that Jesus presented--as much as I wish it was easy or that it came naturally--is a daily struggle. And I think that’s something I needed to be reminded of. I’ve kind of found myself coasting along lately, satisfied that I’m “doing enough” but not really sacrificing anything. And I’ve realized that without putting myself out there like I have, I never would have known that I wasn't putting myself out there before. 

For once, I finally have the opportunity to start practicing the things I believe in (I actually know poor people, homeless people, orphans, widows, and outcasts! I can actually start loving them!), but it’s so much harder than I expected. I used to give myself a free pass and skim over those parts of scripture because “they didn’t apply to me” (read: I didn’t know any of those types of people). 

Then, as I learned more and I began to reexamine those parts of my faith, I found myself believing that I would do those things (if I knew those people), and gave myself a hearty pat on the back, thinking that my mere good thoughts were doing the world a favor: “It’s OK, guys. Joel knows the right answer. If he’s ever tested, he’ll get an A+.” 

But that’s the thing: I was never tested. I never went out of my way to place myself in that circumstance--instead, I carefully constructed my life in such a way that I wouldn't have to deal with “those people.” (I went to a predominantly white church, I stayed away from the “bad” parts of town, I avoided making eye contact with panhandlers.) 

Perhaps you have done the same thing.

Instead of actually following Jesus, I had constructed an entire hypothetical world in my head, in which Joel Davis was a super spiritual person--as if that's the part God cares about: our inner beliefs. In reality, I was just another white American, whose day-to-day life by any practical means of measurement or observation was no different than any other average Joe’s, Christian or not. 

And so now, finally, when the rubber is meeting the road at last...I think it scares me how difficult it is, how easily selfishness and fear and everything else can get in the way, how much we truly do have to rely on Jesus and not our own ability. This whole time I’ve been trying to be a good Christian on my own strength, and for the first time I’m starting to understand how foolish that is. 

I was hoping this blog would have a better conclusion. That I could say something witty or deep or inspiring. But this situation is still happening and it’s still messy and I’m still hiding. 

But don’t worry. We’re taking this one day at a time and we’re figuring out what it really looks like to love well. (And we’ve got amazing people around us who’ve been doing this a lot longer than we have. Praise God for them!)